First the good news. I just got a really beautiful invitation to Lisa Panish’s daughter’s wedding. Some of you are ancient enough to know her as Lisa Zolat. For the rest of you, she is the one who has kept the Neve office in Manhattan running together with her staff since pre-history. I can’t help but wondering what percentage of you owe everything you eventually became because of her knack for making things happen.
There’s also bad news.
No one was untouched by the Shabbos in Pittsburgh. I am sure, people being human, that some of you initially asked yourself “Do I know anyone in Pittsburgh? Would they be at The Tree of Life? “You (and I to be honest) try to protect yourself with the knowledge that your inner circle is still whole.
Only it’s not.
To understand why not, without resorting to clichés, I want to do something very Jewish, which is to answer a question with a question. You ask (at least theoretically) how strangers in Pittsburgh can be part of your inner circle when you have never met them. Is this really honest? While you are in the asking mode, did you ever think about why women say the phrase thanking Hashem, “for the covenant you have sealed in my flesh” in birkat hamazon. It clearly alludes to circumcision. How can a woman thank Hashem for that?
The answer to all of the above can be understood when you focus on what happens when you take drink of water. Your lips were parched, and your throat was dry, but the drink that you took doesn’t just affect your lips or your mouth. Every part of your body is nurtured from your toe to your brain.
The same thing holds true for Klal Yisrael. No individual Jew can perform all of the mitzvot. If you are a man, you aren’t a woman. If you are a woman (as in the example with birkat hamazon), you aren’t a man. If you are a Kohen you aren’t a Levi, and if you are a regular Yisrael, or a Ger Tzedek you’re neither. It goes on. If you are in Eretz Yisrael you don’t keep two days of Yom Tov. If you are not in Eretz Yisrael, you don’t give any of the agricultural gifts (no trumah from your garden even in Lakewood!). If you are living in this century you didn’t face the challenges your ancestors did thousands of years ago, but you draw on their merit. Meshech Chochma one of the great late 19th century sages brought a textual proof for this from the fact that at Mount Sinai the Jews all accepted all of the mitzvot. The lips, brain, toes, and all of the rest of the organs of the body of Klal Yisrael were there.
A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and yes, a murder is a murder is a murder. We are a family.
And even the best Jewish families sometimes fight.
One of the most difficult situations that arise is when you forget that. The reason for the toxic embitterment that poisons family relationship when you fight, is that you can’t forget that the person who hurt you is someone who is part of you and will be part of you forever.
You can get really angry with Hashem when you forget that you and He are one; to use Malbim’s words, He is the soul of the world. Walk with Him with simplicity.
What it means practically is you look at things and ask just one question. “What am I supposed to do. Who am I supposed to be”.
In this week’s Parshah, Chaye Sara, you have the very first psukim giving Sara the ultimate praise, her life is described by listing each stage. The conclusion is that each stage there was equally blessed. That’s not the same thing as saying each stage was equally easy; the years of her waiting couldn’t have been as joyous as the day that Yitzchak was born. The day that Hagar betrayed her couldn’t have been an easy one either. What each day had in common was that it was a day. Another day in doing what Hashem wants of you, and what you want of yourself.
Eliezer was Avraham’s chief of staff. He lived to do whatever the mission that Avraham’s conscience dictated. If it meant teaching, he would teach, if it meant going out with Avraham to rescue Lot at the risk of his own life, he would go. When Avraham asked him to find a wife for Yitzchak, the fact that he had a daughter didn’t stop him from praying to Hashem for a sign. He wanted to find the kind of woman who would do what his own daughter would never be able to do, be a link in the chain.
Temimus is inner honesty about who you are, whether you are walking your talk, and whether you see yourself as part of something bigger than you will ever be.
In spite of the ten tests that Avraham faced, he never became disillusioned or resentful. His love for Hashem never was weakened by dealing with challenge after challenge. When Hashem decided to destroy Sodom and Amorah, he revealed this to Avraham. The reason is that (as the text tells us) he was , “Avraham who loves Me”.
The killings in Pittsburgh affect all of us. You can’t fight evil with cynical declarations or with bitterness. You have to open your heart to feeling pain. At the same time, be real, open up your hearts to being more “there”, doing more good and being more tamim.