Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sacrificing for the future

(based on LKU”S Chelek Alef page 56. Yud Tes page 267 ) 
Are your children important to you? How about your grandchildren?

Anyone who is a parent would consider the above questions as ludicrous, or even preposterous. Children are, most obviously, important to their parents from before they even enter this world and for as long as life continues. Grandchildren? “Important” can hardly do justice to the way grandparents feel about them. 

Twenty six children stood together this week; children of four fathers. They stood on the soil of the holy city of Jerusalem. The holy soil had been disturbed this past Tuesday, opened for the purpose of interring those four fathers. They had been praying, bedecked in the prayer shawls (Talis) and Tefillin. Two evil butchers, whose faces and lives had been undoubtedly stripped of “the image of G-d,” entered into their place of worship. They intended to soil that synagogue, but unholiness can never do that. The gruesome thick bloodbath produced from men still in their prayer garb notwithstanding, the murder and injuries of those holy souls brought that synagogue to the level of the holy of holies.

As much as those four fathers – who were also grandfathers – appreciated the importance of their children and grandchildren, they have now been elevated to look out for their loved ones from the most holy of perches in Heaven. 

For those left behind, though, it is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, savagely brutal deed – even when taking into account the long span of Jewish history, which has featured untold amounts of bloody human butchery in the form of pogroms and massacres, committed by evil people in the name of varied religions or warped ideologies. 

It is the children and grandchildren, the orphans (and, of course, widows) who have been forced into a place of horror, terror, and loss. They will be unable to reciprocate the attention from their parents and grandparents (and husbands) in this corporeal world.

This version of murder, in the ongoing terrorism against Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere, has also left a country, and indeed an entire nation, in shock, grief, and with a shakeup of faith. 

Many facets and twists are present in this latest development. This writing will focus on the element of faith and on the element of continuing on.

First and foremost are the circumstances of the attack: These Jewish men were dressed in their prayer garb, and were engaged in connecting with the Almighty. Some of these men were not born into a life which espoused this behavior. As of this past Tuesday, however, they all had chosen to devote their lives to connect with the Creator of the Universe to the best of their ability. This point is critical not to overlook. This means that the memories of these holy souls can be remembered and enhanced only by doing what they did until their final breaths, and during their final moments, on this earth. Praying to the Almighty, studying His Torah, and following His instructions would, unquestionably, bring more goodness and holiness to this darkened world. Anyone and everyone is capable of this.

The second point involves lessons from two episodes in this week’s Torah portion, “Toldos.” In its second half, the portion records the patriarch Isaac wishing to bestow blessings upon his son, Esau. His wife, the matriarch Rebecca, knew that the blessings were better suited for their righteous son, Jacob. She asked her son to dress in Esau’s garb to avoid detection. Jacob was understandably concerned: “Maybe my father will feel me, and see that I am an imposter – I will bring upon myself a curse not a blessing. But his mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son.’” (B’raishis (Genesis) 27:12-13.)

Rebecca was, indeed, successful in convincing Jacob to go ahead with this, by accepting a possible curse upon herself. While this is a commendable mother, what son would accept such a deal?

Earlier in the portion, Isaac is convinced to renew the oath with the Philistines, made with the patriarch Abraham: “Let the oath that was between us (from the days of your father) be between ourselves and you.” (26:28.) This oath is recorded previously in the Torah (21:23.) It states: “You will not see me, or my son, or my grandson.

While it is commendable to pursue peace and harmony with people, does Isaac (and Abraham before him) have the right to make deals on behalf of grandchildren, who had yet to born, without consulting them?

These two episodes provide guidance and instruction for critical elements in life. The blessings bestowed onto Jacob were to be forwarded to his eventual progeny: the Jewish people. This significance is what Rebecca wished to demonstrate to her son. By exhibiting the will to undergo a potent curse for the sake of these blessings, Jacob could appreciate how far he, and his children, might have to go. It could possibly include sacrifice of human life for this purpose. Rebecca was not merely being a good and soothing mother. She was educating her son about life and important moments in life – which could, at times, include episodes which require sacrifice.

At the same time, Judaism seeks life and its sanctity. Judaism recognizes that life on this physical earth provides each person with further opportunities to make an everlasting impact on his or her environment by utilizing time and resources for this purpose. The sacrificing of life has been the unfortunate reality for Jewish people in every generation of their existence. It has been done unhesitatingly when necessary, but Judaism never seeks it out.

By looking into the future, Isaac knew that, with the right kind of education, he could count on his descendants, even until future generations – to which he realistically could expect to personally impact – to follow in his footsteps of service to Heaven, and living at peace with others.

Jewish fathers were slaughtered this week. These Jews, born in the United States and elsewhere, paid the price for choosing to continue living their physical lives in the City of Jerusalem in the Holy Land of Israel, promised in this week’s Torah portion to these very people. They chose holiness, and it cost them. If they could speak today, they would surely say how they learned from Rebecca about being prepared to sacrifice for a holy matter.

For those left behind, however, it is imperative to pay attention to life here on this earth. Everyone needs to lead their lives in the best and holiest manner, not allowing evil to deter them. Parents and grandparents, whose children are obviously so important to them, must prepare their children by educating them to the great opportunities of bringing goodness into the world.

Soon, very soon, evil will be removed from the earth, with the advent of the Messianic era. In the meantime, the words of Psalm 79:10 ring so true: “Why should the nations (of the world) say, ‘Where is their G-d?’ Let there be known among the nations, before our eyes, the retribution of the spilled blood of your servants.” May all bloodshed cease, and may all people experience only goodness.

SUMMARY: This week’s senseless slaughter in Jerusalem should lead to focus on the victim’s goal: Serving the Almighty to transform this world into a better place.