I have often told mourners: You never get over the death of a loved one; but you learn to get through it. We find consolation not by forgetting them, but by bringing them along with us every day of our lives. We find consolation through the power of love, the blessing of loving and being loved.
Angel for Shabbat
The story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, is one of the most powerful and enigmatic passages in the Torah. Why did God need to test Abraham’s faith in such a dramatic fashion? Why did Abraham heed God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac without offering any resistance? Why did the angel of the Lord wait until the very last moment—when Abraham had a knife at Isaac’s throat—to intervene?
Forecasters and marketers have come up with a word to describe a current trend: cocooning. This term refers to a growing phenomenon in which people increasingly strive for a sense of personal space by cutting themselves off from the “outside world.” They avoid social interactions by enclosing themselves in their own private world to the extent possible.
Our great biblical heroes, as well as our great spiritual heroes of all generations, were real human beings, not plaster saints. They had real feelings, real conflicts. Many times they performed admirably; on some occasions they fell short. To suggest that anyone is “perfect”—totally devoid of sin and error—is to misrepresent that person and to misrepresent truth.
The story of Cain and Abel is deeply troubling. For some unstated reason, God accepts the offering of Abel and rejects the offering of Cain. In his bitterness and jealousy, Cain murders Abel, the first homicide.
The famed American Jewish novelist, Saul Bellow, coined a phrase: "warehouse of good intentions." People had intended to contact an old friend...but didn't get around to it. People had planned on supporting a particular charity...but didn't find time to write the check. People had wanted to express their appreciation and love to a special person or persons...but the opportunity seemed never to arise.
As we enter the holy day season, it is important for us to remember that we each stand before the Almighty, who Alone knows the essence of who we are. The ultimate Arbiter of the value of our lives is the One to whom we are answerable. There is no point in pretending to be what we aren't, or in posturing to make ourselves more important in the eyes of others--God always knows the Truth about who we are.
In his essay “Fate and Destiny,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik delineates two aspects of Jewish peoplehood: the camp and the congregation. “The camp is created as a result of the desire for self-defense and is nurtured by a sense of fear; the congregation is created as a result of the longing for the realization of an exalted ethical idea and is nurtured by the sentiment of love. Fate reigns in unbounded fashion in the camp; destiny reigns in the congregation….”
Angel for Shabbat, Matot Masei
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
It is said that when Alexander the Great reached the peak of his career by conquering the entire known world—he broke down and cried.
One explanation for his crying is that he realized that there were no more battles for him to undertake. His best achievements were in the past. He had climbed to the top and had nowhere else to go. He cried in frustration.
In our world today, we are—unfortunately—accustomed to dealing with biased, hate-filled, and dishonest enemies. We sometimes wonder why people abandon reason and fairness in order to maintain hateful prejudices.
But we also know that the “Bil’am effect” is possible. Some special individuals—steeped in animosity and prejudice—can rise above their biases, can open their eyes, can become forces for good instead of pawns of evil.