It’s been a rough few weeks. It began with the news of a heinous crime just blocks from where I live on Manhatan’s Upper West Side: a nanny viciously took the lives of her two young charges. Hurricane Sandy came next, contributing additional loss of life and financial devastation of a magnitude never before experienced by our East Coast brethren. A week later many in our community were disappointed with the decisive outcome of the presidential election and the realization that we are truly a minority both in number and outlook within the United States. Finally, there was the precarious situation in Eretz Yisrael, hundreds of rockets raining down on daily and the threat of another major war. The saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.”
The book of Beraishis focuses on our Avos. Avraham is the trait of chesed or kindness. To me, this is an illusion to the first month of the Jewish calendar. Tishrei is all kindness from Hashem, His accepting our teshuvah, cleansing us and allowing us to sit in the sukkah under His watchful eye.
Then we shift to the stories of Yitzchak and the aspects of judgment or intensity of his persona as exemplified in the Akeidah experience. The letters of “Yitzchak” spell “Ketz Chai” “or end of life as he represents the transition into a higher world and the finality and magnitude of death. Yitzchak reflects the period that we most recently have experienced the endless flow of disappointment, anguish and pain.
We now transition to the parshiyos of Yaakov Avinu, with a prayer in mind – that Hashem be inspired by the Yaakov’s trait of tiferes. That Hashem look toward the integration, balance and synthesis Yaakov created and use it as a model of tempering His strict justice, din, with divine mercy, rachamim. Just as Yaakov integrated the chesed of his grandfather and the din of his father, we pray that by the end of Beraishis, Hashem will also integrate mercy within His judgment.
We live in an “age of anxiety” and that was even before the recent flow of events. Many of us strive for an equanimity or psychological stability in our lives. This goal has been made most difficult to achieve by the ongoing economic ills and the general challenges of living in the technological age. There is a quiet tension that lurks inside many of us. If I have emunah, faith, so why all the anxiety? I think that’s like asking, if I have yiras Shamayim, why do I ever sin? The answer is we all have lapses, but we add to our stress levels when we are self-critical, thinking that we aren’t authentic or genuine in our avodah. We often forget that many great people have had these common setbacks and challenges.
I saw an insight regarding Sarah Imeinu that resonated deeply considering the challenging backdrop in which we are living. The Reszher Rav, Rav Aaron Levine, commented on the life of Sarah being 127 years and the fact they were, as Chazal teach, “all equally for the good.” He suggests that she was an archetype for balanced, emotionally healthy living. She remained even-keeled despite numerous challenges: She is uprooted from her homeland and abducted by a foreign king. Yet, she also experiences great affluence and is the recipient of an enormous and miraculous Divine gift via the birth of Yitzchak. Amazingly, her basic decency and humanity isn’t impacted by either course of events. As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, she “walks with kings without losing the common touch.” All her 127 years were “equally for the good.”
This maybe explains why death and marriage, a re births of sorts, as reflected in a wedding day being Yom Kippur for both the chassan and kallah. This is echoed by the sevens in Sheva Berachos and Sheva Yemi Aveilus and well as the juxtaposition of the burial of Sarah and the finding of a wife for Yitzchak. A wholesome spiritual life requires equilibrium. At the wedding, the pinnacle of joy, we reflect on the Churban, the destruction of the Temple. In mourning, we have limitations that don’t expand beyond a year. We balance and temper all emotions because when we are out of sorts, we can’t service the Divine in the requisite inspired fashion.
About the Author: Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen, Esq., M.Sc. is director of synagogues for Manhattan, Bronx, Westchester, and Connecticut and director of community outreach for Yachad, both leadership roles at the Orthodox Union. His book is available at rabbidovidmcohen.com.
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