Life offers all of us hard challenges. These challenges are made even harder by those who try to impede our growth and our progress. But the hardest challenge is to maintain enthusiasm, to keep looking forward, to overcome obstacles…to grow old in years while remaining young in idealism.
Angel for Shabbat
If a person seeks to live according to high ideals that transcend personal glorification, such a person will earn the respect of others. Genuine people respect genuinely good human beings.Abram set an example for all who wish to live honorable lives. “And Abram went as the Lord had spoken to him.” That made all the difference for Abram. And that can make all the difference for us.
The opening paragraph of the Amidah, recited as the central prayer of our daily liturgy, refers to the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.” And yet, when the blessing is actually recited at the end of this passage, it praises God as “the Shield of Abraham.” Only Abraham’s name is mentioned. Why?
The Torah calls on us to think, to evaluate, and to act righteously. It challenges us to serve the Almighty with our intelligence and personal responsibility; not from blind obedience.The Torah is not an esoteric document that can be deciphered only by an elite group of prophets or sages; rather, it is the heritage of the entire people. Each of us has access to the truths of the Torah by means of our own intellectual and emotional efforts.
There was once a king who had two advisers. The advisers had a luxurious life as long as they bowed to the whims of the king. The king’s whims were many. He often made unreasonable demands. He was harsh in his criticisms. He expected the advisers to be at his service constantly. He humiliated them by always reminding them that he was their superior, that he could order them around at will. As long as they complied, he rewarded them generously.
Our home base as Jews is Torah and mitzvoth. But for us to flourish fully in our humanity, we invite the beauty of Yefet into our home. We not only foster a “strictness of conscience,” but also a “spontaneity of consciousness.” Our goal is “to see things in their essence and beauty” while staying faithful to our spiritual natures.
The Torah informs us that the festival of Succoth commemorates God’s providence over the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. An old question is: why was this holiday scheduled to begin specifically on the 15th day of Tishri?
The hallmark of who we are as a Jewish people is our commitment to humanity—our own humanity and the humanity of others. We rebel against oppression; we reject the philosophy of business is business, that profits come first; we embrace social responsibility and mutual trust. Each of us who strives to live by these Jewish ideals is a moral hero who defies the dehumanizing tendencies evident in our society.
The Talmud (Hagiga 12b) records an enigmatic statement by Rabbi Yosei: “Woe unto people, who see but do not know what they see; who stand, but do not know on what they stand.”
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….”