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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘journey’

The Jewish Journey

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Why is Jacob the father of our people, the hero of our faith? We are “the congregation of Jacob,” “the children of Israel.” Yet it was Abraham who began the Jewish journey, Isaac who was willing to be sacrificed, Joseph who saved his family in the years of famine, Moses who led the people out of Egypt and gave it its laws. It was Joshua who took the people into the Promised land, David who became its greatest king, Solomon who built the Temple, and the prophets through the ages who became the voice of God.

The account of Jacob in the Torah seems to fall short of these other lives, at least if we read the text literally. He has tense relationships with his brother Esau, his wives Rachel and Leah, his father-in-law Laban, and with his three eldest children, Reuben, Simon and Levi. There are times when he seems full of fear, others when he acts – or at least seems to act – with less than total honesty. In reply to Pharaoh he says of himself, “The days of my life have been few and hard” (Gen. 47:9). This is less than we might expect from a hero of faith.

That is why so much of the image we have of Jacob is filtered through the lens of midrash, the oral tradition preserved by the sages. In this tradition, Jacob is all good, Esau all bad. It had to be this way – so argued R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes in his essay on the nature of midrashic interpretation – because otherwise we would find it hard to draw from the biblical text a clear sense of right and wrong, good and bad. The Torah is an exceptionally subtle book, and subtle books tend to be misunderstood. So the oral tradition made it simpler: black and white instead of shades of gray.

Yet perhaps, even without midrash, we can find an answer – and the best way of so doing is to think of the idea of a journey.

Judaism is about faith as a journey. It begins with the journey of Abraham and Sarah, leaving behind their “land, birthplace and father’s house” and travelling to an unknown destination, “the land I will show you.”

The Jewish people is defined by another journey in a different age: the journey of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt across the desert to the Promised Land.

That journey becomes a litany in the parsha of Massei: “They left X and they camped in Y. They left Y and they camped in Z.” To be a Jew is to move, to travel, and only rarely, if ever, to settle down. Moses warns the people of the danger of settling down and taking the status quo for granted, even in Israel itself: “When you have children and grandchildren, and have been established in the land for a long time, you might become decadent” (Deut. 4:25).

Hence the rules that Israel must always remember its past, never forget its years of slavery in Egypt, never forget on Sukkot that our ancestors once lived in temporary dwellings, never forget that it does not own the land – it belongs to God – and we are merely there as God’s gerim ve’toshavim, “strangers and sojourners” (Lev. 25:23).

Why so? Because to be a Jew means not to be fully at home in the world. To be a Jew means to live within the tension between heaven and earth, creation and revelation, the world that is and the world we are called on to make; between exile and home, and between the universality of the human condition and the particularity of Jewish identity. Jews don’t stand still except when standing before God. The universe, from galaxies to subatomic particles, is in constant motion, and so is the Jewish soul.

We are, we believe, an unstable combination of dust of the earth and breath of God, and this calls on us constantly to make decisions, choices, that will make us grow to be as big as our ideals, or, if we choose wrongly, make us shrivel into small, petulant creatures obsessed by trivia. Life as a journey means striving each day to be greater than we were the day before, individually and collectively.

If the concept of a journey is a central metaphor of Jewish life, what in this regard is the difference between Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

Abraham’s life is framed by two journeys both of which use the phrase Lech lecha, “undertake a journey,” once in Genesis 12 when he was told to leave his land and father’s house, the other in Gen. 22:2 at the binding of Isaac when he was told, “Take your son, the only one you love – Isaac – and go [lech lecha] to the region of Moriah.”

What is so moving about Abraham is that he goes, immediately and without question, despite the fact that both journeys are wrenching in human terms. In the first he has to leave his father. In the second he has to let go of his son. He has to say goodbye to the past and risk saying farewell to the future. Abraham is pure faith. He loves God and trusts Him absolutely. Not everyone can achieve that kind of faith. It is almost superhuman.

Isaac is the opposite. It is as if Abraham, knowing the emotional sacrifices he has had to make, knowing too the trauma Isaac must have felt at the binding, seeks to protect his son as far as lies within his power. He makes sure that Isaac does not leave the Holy Land (see Gen. 24:6 – that is why Abraham does not let him travel to find a wife). Isaac’s one journey (to the land of the Philistines, in Gen. 26) is limited and local. Isaac’s life is a brief respite from the nomadic existence Abraham and Jacob both experience.

Jacob is different again. What makes him unique is that he has his most intense encounters with God – they are the most dramatic in the whole book of Genesis – in the midst of the journey, alone, at night, far from home, fleeing from one danger to the next, from Esau to Laban on the outward journey, from Laban to Esau on his homecoming.

In the midst of the first he has the blazing epiphany of the ladder stretching from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending, moving him to say on waking, “God is truly in this place but I did not know it . . . This must be God’s house and this the gate to heaven” (28:16-17). None of the other patriarchs, not even Moses, has a vision quite like this.

On the second, in our parsha, he has the haunting, enigmatic wrestling match with the man/angel/God, which leaves him limping but permanently transformed – the only person in the Torah to receive from God an entirely new name, Israel, which may mean, “one who has wrestled with God and man” or “one who has become a prince [sar] before God”.

What is fascinating is that Jacob’s meetings with angels are described by the same verb ’p-g-sh’, (Gen. 28:11, and 32:2), which means “a chance encounter,” as if they took Jacob by surprise, which clearly they did. Jacob’s most spiritual moments are ones he did not plan. He was thinking of other things, about what he was leaving behind and what lay ahead of him. He was, as it were, “surprised by God.”

Jacob is someone with whom we can identify. Not everyone can aspire to the loving faith and total trust of an Abraham, or to the seclusion of an Isaac. But Jacob is someone we understand. We can feel his fear, understand his pain at the tensions in his family, and sympathize with his deep longing for a life of quietude and peace (the sages say about the opening words of next week’s parsha that “Jacob longed to live at peace, but was immediately thrust into the troubles of Joseph”).

The point is not just that Jacob is the most human of the patriarchs but rather that at the depths of his despair he is lifted to the greatest heights of spirituality. He is the man who encounters angels. He is the person surprised by God. He is the one who, at the very moments he feels most alone, discovers that he is not alone, that God is with him, that he is accompanied by angels.

Jacob’s message defines Jewish existence. It is our destiny to travel. We are the restless people. Rare and brief have been our interludes of peace. But at the dark of night we have found ourselves lifted by a force of faith we did not know we had, surrounded by angels we did not know were there. If we walk in the way of Jacob, we too may find ourselves surprised by God.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Our parsha contains the most serene description of old age and dying anywhere in the Torah: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). There is an earlier verse, no less moving: “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything” (Gen. 24:1).

Nor was this serenity the gift of Abraham alone. Rashi was puzzled by the description of Sarah – “Sarah lived to be 127 years old: [These were] the years of Sarah’s life” (23:1). The last phrase seems completely superfluous. Why not just tell us that Sarah lived to the age of 127? What is added by saying that “these were the years of Sarah’s life”? Rashi is led to the conclusion that the first half of the verse talks about the quantity of her life, how long she lived, while the second tells us about the quality of her life. “They – the years she lived – were all equal in goodness.”

Yet how is any of this conceivable? Abraham and Sarah were commanded by God to leave everything that was familiar: their land, their home, their family, and travel to an unknown land. No sooner had they arrived than they were forced to leave because of famine. Twice, Abraham’s life was at risk when, driven into exile, he worried that he would be killed so that the local ruler could take Sarah into his harem. Sarah herself had to say that she was Abraham’s sister, and had to suffer the indignity of being taken into a stranger’s household.

Then there was the long wait for a child, made even more painful by the repeated Divine promise that they would have as many children as the stars of the sky or the dust of the earth. Then came the drama of the birth of Ishmael to Sarah’s servant Hagar. This aggravated the relationship between the two women, and eventually Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away. One way or another, this was a source of pain to all four people involved.

Then there was the agony of the binding of Isaac. Abraham was faced with the prospect of losing the person most precious to him, the child he had waited for so long.

For a variety of reasons, neither Abraham nor Sarah had an easy life. Theirs were lives of trial, in which their faith was tested at many points. How can Rashi say that all of Sarah’s years were equal in goodness? How can the Torah say that Abraham had been blessed with everything?

The answer is given by the parsha itself, and it is very unexpected. Seven times Abraham had been promised the land. Here is just one of those occasions:

 

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes, and, from the place where you are now [standing], look to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (Gen. 13:14-17)

 

Yet by the time Sarah dies, Abraham has no land at all, and he is forced to prostrate himself before the local Hittites and beg for permission to acquire even a single field with a cave in which to bury his wife. Even then he has to pay what is clearly a massively inflated price: four hundred silver shekels. This does not sound like the fulfillment of the promise of “all the land, north, south, east and west.”

Then, in relation to children, Abraham is promised four times: “I will make you into a great nation” (12:2). “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). God “took [Abram] outside and said, ‘Look at the sky and count the stars. See if you can count them.’ [God] then said to him, ‘That is how [numerous] your descendants will be.’ ” (15:5). “No longer shall you be called Abram. Your name shall become Abraham, for I have set you up as the father of many nations” (17:5).

Yet he had to wait so long for even a single son by Sarah that when God insisted that she would indeed have a son, both Abraham (17:17) and Sarah (18:12) laughed. (The sages differentiated between these two episodes, saying that Abraham laughed with joy, Sarah with disbelief. In general, in Genesis, the verb tz-ch-k, to laugh, is fraught with ambiguity).

One way or another, whether we think of children or the land – the two key Divine promises to Abraham and Sarah – the reality fell far short of what they might have felt entitled to expect.

That, however, is precisely the meaning and message of Chayei Sarah. In it Abraham does two things: he buys the first plot in the land of Canaan, and he arranges for the marriage of Isaac. One field and a cave was, for Abraham, enough for the text to say that “God had blessed Abraham with everything.” One child, Isaac, by then married and with children (Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born; Isaac was sixty when the twins, Jacob and Esau, were born; and Abraham was 175 when he died) was enough for Abraham to die in peace.

Lao-Tzu, the Chinese sage, said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. To that Judaism adds, “It is not for you to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it” (Avot 2:16). God Himself said of Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him” (Gen. 18:19).

The meaning of this is clear. If you ensure that your children will continue to live for what you have lived for, then you can have faith that they will continue your journey until eventually they reach the destination. Abraham did not need to see all the land in Jewish hands, nor did he need to see the Jewish people become numerous. He had taken the first step. He had begun the task, and he knew that his descendants would continue it. He was able to die serenely because he had faith in God and faith that others would complete what he had begun. The same was surely true of Sarah.

To place your life in God’s hands, to have faith that whatever happens to you happens for a reason, to know that you are part of a larger narrative, and to believe that others will continue what you began, is to achieve a satisfaction in life that cannot be destroyed by circumstance. Abraham and Sarah had that faith, and they were able to die with a sense of fulfillment.

To be happy does not mean that you have everything you want or everything you were promised. It means, simply, to have done what you were called on to do, to have made a beginning, and then to have passed on the baton to the next generation. “The righteous, even in death, are regarded as though they were still alive” (Berachot 18a) because the righteous leave a living trace in those who come after them.

That was enough for Abraham and Sarah, and it must be enough for us.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Journey of Old Age

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Epicurus’ visit to Abraham began with their customary banter regarding Tent vs. Garden. Abraham’s Tent was open in four directions to welcome all visitors (Genesis 21:33; TB Sotah 10a). Epicurus described his table, also open to any and all, as The Garden. Guests were greeted with a sign that read, “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure. The caretaker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with bread, and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: ‘have you not been well entertained?’ This garden does not whet your appetite, but quenches it.”

 

Both Abraham’s Tent and Epicurus’ Garden were vehicles to introduce and nurture new ideas, although Abraham was terribly bothered by the Garden’s welcome sign. Abraham openly declared that it was God, not he, who was the host, and focused on whetting the appetite for ideas, not quenching that for food and drink. But, Epicurus’ was a great mind, and Abraham loved to engage him in debate. Eliezer, Abraham’s majordomo, relished listening in.

 

Epicurus, as was his habit, rejected Abraham’s offer of “cream and tender calf flavored with mustard (18:8),” and brought his own bowl of plain boiled lentils. They joked about Epicurus not trusting Abraham’s Kashrut certification, but Abraham understood that his guest, despite his reputation as an Epicurean, simply preferred food he had grown himself. The Patriarch considered such preference as dangerous nonsense, perhaps Apikorsut – Heresy, for rejecting the pleasure and promise of human creativity.

 

Epicurus had recently read, “Now Abraham was old, well on in years, and God blessed Abraham with everything (24:1).” So, when Abraham asked, “What is your pleasure today, my honored guest?” Epicurus answered, “I came to discuss old age. You seem to agree with me that it is the pinnacle of life, the best it gets. I have always taught, ‘It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness’ (Vatican Sayings).”

 

They debated for hours. Abraham insisted that his wanderings were consistently productive, had never vacillated, and did not consider himself docked in the harbor. In fact, “Abraham proceeded and took a wife (25:1),” and had more children! Abraham, no longer a Walker (12:1, 17:1, 22:1), currently a landowner (Chapter 23), wanted his journey to continue. He considered his journey of old age as nurturing that of future generations. Epicurus wanted only, “the pleasing recollection of the past.”

 

Abraham argued for ideas that defined his life. Epicurus debated as his leisure, believing the entire purpose of learning was to attune the senses to the pleasures of life.

 

Eliezer carefully listened to Abraham’s words, and, when, “Abraham said to his servant, the old man of his house (24:2),” was touched that his master considered him Abraham’s type of old man. Eliezer was so moved that he assumed his connection with Abraham made it obvious that only Eliezer’s daughter would be the right match for Isaac. The old servant was shattered and shocked when Abraham insisted that, although only Eliezer could be entrusted with the mission, the servant would choose Isaac’s wife from Abraham’s long ago abandoned (12:1) family. Abraham immediately sensed Eliezer’s pain. The master, who said to the people of Heth, “You consider me a stranger and a resident among you (23:4),” stubbornly refused to allow himself to be defined by others, understood that Eliezer sought his definition in Abraham, and needed to master the journey of old age. Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Isaac was intended to teach the old servant how to journey.

 

Eliezer searched for a woman who was kind, but Rebecca’s highest quality only became obvious, “the next morning, Eliezer said, ‘Send me on my way to my master.’ But her brother and her mother replied, ‘Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.’ He said to them, ‘Do not detain me, now that God has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’ Then they said, ‘Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.’ So they called Rebecca and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ ‘I will go – eileikh,’ she said (24:54-58).” Rebecca was a Walker. She was willing to leave her family and go out into the world just as did Abraham so many years earlier. It was only at this point when Eliezer fully appreciated why Rebecca was the perfect match for Isaac, and, “The servant took Rebecca and went – vayeilakh (Verse 61).” Eliezer became a Walker. He mastered the journey of old age. He finally understood Abraham’s definition of his greatest pleasure as that of courageous human creativity. Anything less was, well, Apikorsus!
May You Experience Shabbat As A Creative Journey Into the Future

Shabbat Shalom

Dedication: In honor of the Hebrew Birthday of The Greatest Journeyer, Debbie Brenner

 

Rabbi Simcha Weinberg

The Journey From The Refuge

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Even as Moses reviews the story of the people he led out of Egypt, he hints at his own story, a story that at one point, leads him to break out in song: ” Az, Then Moses set aside three Cities of Refuge on the bank of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:41).” The Ba’alei Tosafot point out that “Az” is always the introduction to an inspired song. The Song of the Sea begins with “Az (Exodus 15:1). The Song of the Well, too, begins with “Az, (Numbers 21:17).”

So why, ask the Ba’alei Tosafot, did Moses break out in song when he set aside Cities of Refuge for killers?

We wonder why Cities of Refuge stimulated song, when the Shema and the retelling of Revelation and the Ten Statements did not?

More than a century earlier, Moses needed his own City of Refuge. He killed an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:12), and ran, exiled, from Egypt to Midian. It was in Midian where he became the Moses who would discover God at the Burning Bush. It was in his refuge that Moses became the man who would lead his nation from Egypt to Revelation, all the way to the Jordan River, where he set aside the Cities of Refuge.

The tragedy that caused him to lose his place in Pharaoh’s palace eventually led him to the highest heavens. His second look at his life story caused him to break out in song. Moses sang of the power of Torah to serve as a refuge that would allow even a killer to have an Act Two beyond all expectations. He would now be able to retell the story of Revelation, not as a story, but as a second act, an opportunity to experience the process again and be transformed. This is the first time that we learn that Torah is a Song, why the musical notes of the words are so significant, for they are the Song of the Act Two, an opportunity to rise from tragedy to unimaginable heights.

This Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu, is named for Isaiah’s famous prophecy of consolation that begins with, “Nachamu, Nachamu, Comfort, Comfort, My people (Isaiah 40:1).” Nachamu, Nachamu, not as a repetition, but as the Song of Act Two. Isaiah is, as did Moses when setting aside Cities of Refuge, promising that Act Two is possible, and holds even more promise than life before exile.

We welcome the Angels to our Shabbat table with a song. People often ask me why we repeat each stanza, and my answer is always, “Each Shabbat can be a Song of Act Two, no Shabbat is as any other. Each is a City of Refuge from which we will emerge as did Moses from his, elevated, inspired, empowered to achieve more than we ever dreamed possible.”

It is exactly such a Shabbat that I wish for every Israeli family that sought refuge in a bomb shelter, and for each one of us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Simcha Weinberg

The Parsha Experiment – Matot-Masei: Israel’s Psychological Journey

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Parshat Masei begins with a recap of everywhere Israel has been so far on their journey throughout the desert. And you have to ask: who cares? Why is this here? As we’ve discussed many times, the Torah is not just a list of laws and stories. Each piece is meant to teach us some sort of timeless lesson. How does this travel log do that?

{This video is from Rabbi David Block and Immanuel Shalev}

Link to last week:
https://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/pinchas-2016-5776/autoplay

 

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Immanuel Shalev

Book Review: The Spiritual Journey Of A Jewish Chaplain

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Life Support: Stories of My Chaplaincy and Bikur Cholim Rounds by Rachel Stein, 213 pages, (Lakewood, New Jersey: 2016), published by Israel Bookshop

 

“What do you mean you won’t do a baptism?” asked a nurse. “All of the other chaplains do!” Rachel Stein, working in a hospital with mostly non-Jewish patients, whom she prayed with and comforted, was put on the spot many times because she is Jewish. That didn’t keep her from completing the chaplaincy training. Now Rebbetzin Stein has written a book about her experiences as the co-founder of Bikur Cholim of Atlanta and as a Jewish chaplain.

In her moving introduction, Rachel, who has written eight children’s books, tells about losing her father at age four and how difficult it was to grow up without a father and grandparents. Rachel says she sought out the elderly. “I found the elderly to be cute, fun people who twinkled when they laughed and exuded unconditional love.” She was also so driven to visit the ill that at the age of 14 she volunteered in a cancer hospital, “drawing immense satisfaction from bringing sunshine into the patients’ days.”

When her mother became ill, Rachel was 25, married, had young children at home and was pregnant. Living two hours away from her mother’s home in Philadelphia, she hoped to visit often, but the drive was too much for her. Then a special friend, Elaine, offered to take her every week. This lasted for a month, enabling Rachel to be there on the day that her mother’s soul left this world.

“How can I ever repay you for what you did for me?” Rachel asked Elaine.

“When someone needs help, you be there for them,” said Elaine. “And that’s how you will repay me.” It’s obvious from reading Life Support that Rachel has repaid Elaine many times.

There was no organized bikur cholim society when Rachel and Michele Asa started one in Atlanta in the merit of a refuah sheilamah for Danny Miller, a father, aged 34, battling cancer. Everyone loved Danny and he loved them. Each morning he woke up to a sign in his bedroom: “Hello, G-d. It’s me, Dan Miller, reporting for service.”

Rachel Stein (seated) at a book signing for Life Support. Left to right: Rena Naghi and her daughter Janet Afrah, owners of Judaica Corner in Atlanta, where the book signing took place.

Rachel Stein (seated) at a book signing for Life Support. Left to right: Rena Naghi and her daughter Janet Afrah, owners of Judaica Corner in Atlanta, where the book signing took place.

Even while enduring chemotherapy, Danny did mitzvos for others, especially bikur cholim. With his warm smile and sunny disposition, he uplifted the sick. He also had a thirst for Torah. He arranged to learn with several chavrusos and was “…determined to master as much Torah as he could.” Later, everyone who visited Danny knew that he yearned to hear a new thought in Torah.

One day, Rachel received a call from his devoted wife. “We’re asking the community to come over today,” she said softly. “Danny wants to say goodbye.” Rachel writes about the day throngs of people came to the Miller’s house to tell Danny how much he meant to them and their children. “A minyan many times over formed around him, and our community experienced a second Yom Kippur.”

When Danny Miller passed away, the Bikur Cholim of Atlanta was dedicated in his memory.

Changing names for privacy, Rachel, in her vibrant, easy-to-read style, shares remarkable stories of volunteers and those they visit. The stories are vignettes – short but powerful. She takes the reader along with middle-school girls who spontaneously dance and sing at a nursing home. “I can still see the smiles of the girls as they locked eyes with their elderly friends,” writes Rachel. Titles of other vignettes about volunteers include: “Two Men on a Mission,” “The Perk Lady,” “A Southern Belle,” “Shidduch Services” and “A Pastrami Sandwich on Rye.”

One story, which Rachel titles, “The Call of the Shofar” is told in the voice of Chana, a woman in a rehabilitation facility after a serious fall. On Rosh Hashanah, Chana waited for Rabbi G. to blow shofar for her.

R.M. Grossblatt

The Other Caped Crusader

Friday, November 30th, 2012

I quit my full-time job eight months ago without another one to fall back on. In hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions, but it was time for me to move forward. I was in a position that never quite suited me – like an ill-fitting pair of shoes that’s one size too small and rubs across the toes. Sure, a nagging thought called a recession cropped up from time-to-time before I resigned, but I was confident I would only be on the market for a few weeks, max. Armed with a new LinkedIn profile and a heaping dose of faith, I bid farewell to my boss and colleagues of six years to embark on my new journey.

The job hunt went well at first, until I realized my journey had taken me down a metaphorical six-lane highway, ejected me from the car, and thrown me down an embankment. I lay among the debris, moaning. I managed to crawl back up, only to lie down in the middle of the highway as traffic barreled down on me. And I stayed there – unemployed – for months. I began arguing with God. “How could you do this to me?” I howled. “I’m a good person. I don’t deserve this.” I was greeted with silence.

Echoes of the poem “Footprints” ran through my mind: “You promised me Lord that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” More silence.

I rolled over on the now jam-packed highway to confirm that my super-hero cape –emblazoned with the word “righteous” on the back – was still firmly affixed to my neck. It was. I could not make any sense as to why God had not yet sent me a rental car to get me back on my journey. I reasoned perhaps He was waiting for some additional prayers. “Fine,” I thought. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Please God,” I began. “Please send me a new job. I have always been a good servant to You. I am honest and ethical and I call my mother almost every day.” Silence. I needed a different tack. “The emotional and financial toll of my unemployment on my family is heartbreaking,” I pleaded. “They shouldn’t suffer because You haven’t sent me a new job.”

There was an angry silence – but this time, it was mine.

That was it. All bets were off. I was fuming. I had no choice but to officially declare war on God. I would not speak to Him unless spoken to – and since that seemed rather unlikely given the chilly reception I had been receiving – I decided from that moment forward, we would maintain separate lives and living quarters. I stopped davening. I stopped hoping. I cursed my fate and my belief system, angry at being punished. I began an accounting of all the things that had gone wrong in my life and found God sorely lacking. But I was not ready to admit defeat. I would not let God off the hook for abandoning me in my time of need.

And from the rubble that was now my life, a calm voice – one of reason – suddenly emerged. “You can’t lie down across a six-lane highway and expect to be saved,” God said. “But the cape,” I said, my voice trailing off. “What about the cape? Did you see it? I’m a righteous individual, a good person,” I argued. “I know I haven’t given much to charity lately, but what do you expect when you refuse to send me a new job?”

“Roll over,” God said. I did. “The other side,” God instructed. And there it was on my cape. “Self” was inscribed just before the word “righteous.”

I was embarrassed. There it was for all to see – like the Scarlet Letter. I had been self-righteous and pompous and I had to own my mistakes. “I sinned against you,” I told God. “I failed in my journey of faith.”

Allison C. Witty

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/the-other-caped-crusader/2012/11/30/

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