Friday, November 28, 2014

Vayeitzei and Dissatisfaction

Rabbi Yair Robinson
Parashat Vayeitzei
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe,flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.  
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise. 
-Jane Kenyon
This Thanksgiving I felt dissatisfied. Not with the food, or the company. Not with my family, gathered around one table or another. I know that I am blessed beyond all reasonable expectation.  
But I’m thinking about so many communities—and families—in despair.
How could we not think about Ferguson, her people weeping, their city burning?
How could we not think about those four families in Har Nof, and the one further north, sitting shiva, crying over lost fathers and husbands?
How could we not think about our neighbors in Browntown, on 23rd st., on Maryland Ave. who were kept awake this week by the sound of gun shots in their communities?
How could we not think of those who, in their rush to protect the Jewish state, are tearing the very fabric that holds it together with a law that is, at best, meaningless, and at worst, bigoted?
How could we not think of those who, in their pursuit of justice, merely blame the other rather than hear the pain in each other’s’ voices, and feel the pain in each other’s’ hearts?
How could we not think of those who had the no-choice yesterday of being with their family or going to a job that pays little under the threat of having no job at all?
 Tonight, I am dissatisfied. I am sad. I am wrought up.
But as Rabbi David Wolpe reminded us this week, Judaism is the religion and language of dissatisfaction. The answer is not to ‘let it go’, with a shrug of the shoulder and look of surrender on the face. No. We are meant to be dissatisfied. We are a people acutely aware that our blessings must be numbered and measured, so that we may see the suffering around us and embrace it.
I was asked this week which character of the Torah I identified the most. The answer is Jacob, for two things he says, one in this week’s portion and one in next week’s. The first: God was in this place and I didn’t know it. This is as true a sentence as any. We walk through life too often blind to our own blessings, blinded by our first-world problems, and Jacob calls us to put them aside and see what is really before us. The other is “I will not let you go until you bless me”. That is the posture and action of one who recognizes the struggle and takes it as his name—Yisrael—that we must embrace one another all the more fiercely, all the more tightly, with greater intention and intentionality. Embrace one another truly—including each other’s’ faults and foibles. Embrace one another and hold on for dear life, in struggle and love, until we see the blessing instead of the curse; until we can be the blessing for one another, instead of the curse. Embrace them: as tutors in hard-hit schools, as donors for troubled communities in need, as citizens wrought up over the injustice we see around us, but most of all as friends whose act of love and kindness can be all the difference for the person in front of us, whose struggle we cannot see.

Yesterday I was in Washington. Elishai’s grandparents—healthy, active—took him to see various places in our nation’s capital. My wife and I shared some time with her longtime friends. We called my parents and sister—all of whom healthy and well— on Cape Cod. We ate well. It might have been otherwise. We know too many for whom it is otherwise in our world, in our community, perhaps even in our own inner circle. So let’s open our eyes and see the blessing around us, and then embrace them, embrace the suffering other, and hold them, until we may be the blessing for them as well. Kein Yehi Ratzon. 

1 comment:

  1. There's a wonderful dvar Torah by Lord Rabbi Sacks on this weeks parsha which addresses some of these comments on last week's Parsha.

    He talks about the chapter on Dinah and Schechem where there really are no heros and there are no truly unredeemable people either. He cites a machloket between Rambam and Ramban, the former taking the position that all the men of Shechem had to suffer because because there is a communal responsibility to contain evil within their midst while Ramban took the position that Arevim Ze Ba Ze only applies to Jews. So if you look at its application to Ferguson, not far from where I used to live, there is a communal responsibility not to be a threat to each other and to the peace officers assigned there to protect them that was not fulfilled compounded by national figures in that community rationalizing rather than denouncing the rampage that took place there. Yes, shoplifting is not a capital crime but the community did nothing on its own to contain the predators in its midst, either in an ongoing manner or even when the final destruction arose. Rabbi Sacks then goes on with the Parable of the Tribe, very much applicable to not only Shechem but to the reality of Eretz Yisrael which has its share of attackers, be they small time assassins of Har Nof or larger scale bombings from Gaza. Once these occur, the entity being attacked really only has four options (1) get destroyed, (2) get conquered, (3) flee, (4) retaliate. So it does not really matter basically peaceful people around, whether in Israel or in Ferguson, the Torah lesson of Shechem is that once the aggressor is in the midst, you have very little choice but to help perpetuate the violence, even if you were like Jacob and cared more about what the neighbors might think and the negative impact of relations that follow once the violence has been contained. It's not a matter of being insensitive to those who are oppressed.