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From the Rabbi's Study

 

 

Each Purim, we read near the end of Megillat Esther, "There was light and joy, gladness and honor for the Jewish people." 

 

This year, more than ever, we look forward with great hope and add, "So may we be blessed."

 

Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Darkness Before Dawn

This week's Torah portion begins with the death of our matriarch, Sarah.  So much about her passing is left untold by the Torah, but we are given many details following.  After Abraham mourned and cried over his wife, he procured a burial place for her and bought a cave in Hebron, Ma'arat Hamachpela, as a final resting place for Sarah. The juxtaposition of the practical need of planning a funeral seemed to overshadow the emotional reaction to Sarah's death, but finally Abraham is able to bury Sarah with love and honor. 

All finally seems in order until we realize that throughout this ordeal, we haven't seen or heard from Sarah's son, Isaac.  His silence is deafening.  All the more so, as a chapter later we read of his marriage to Rebecca and the Torah tells us, "... he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother's death." Isaac had been mourning all this time and he only found comfort once he found love in the person of his wife, Rebecca. 

After the death of his mother Sarah, the midrash graphically portrays what Isaac was going through.  In Breisheet Rabbah, our rabbis teach about wonders that were a part of Sarah's tent, and that disappeared upon Sarah's death. One of those wonders was a constant light that shined in their home throughout Sarah's life, and when Sarah died the light ended.  When Rebecca came into Isaac's life, the light miraculously returned. While the rabbis of the midrash believed there was an actual light, whether there was an actual light seems secondary.  At the heart of their interpretation is that there was a pall over Isaac with the passing of his mother that was only lifted when Rebecca entered his life.  She was a new source of hope, meaning, and love for him.  She was the new light in his life.

Looking at this week's portion as an entire unit, we see loss, sorrow, and mourning followed by comfort, love, and hope.   In Rebecca, Isaac is able to love and see a future and after the darkest period, light is restored to his life.

It is often said that "it is always darkest before the dawn." While this may or may not be actually true, it defines the resilience in the human soul.  Even in our darkest moments, we can find the light of hope.  Sometimes we may need assistance from others, like Isaac needed from Rebecca, but we can find hope that allows us to see the brightness of a new dawn.  As sure as the sun will rise, we have the opportunity to find hope and meaning in all that we are going through and see the brightness of tomorrow. 

This week, we are being warned of a very dark period we are going through with the rate of infection soaring throughout our country. At the same time, we heard hopeful news about the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.  In this dark time, we must draw strength to see the light ahead and be vigilant until we reach it. 

For this reason, MJC has made the difficult decision to once again suspend Shabbat morning services.  In March, services were suspended amid uncertainty as we confronted a virus that no one understood.  Now, while we are more hopeful about the possibilities of a vaccine and treatment, we are suspending Shabbat morning services to protect our community as the cases of COVID are rising.  We hope this will be a brief suspension. We will keep track of the trend in our community, but in any case, we are hopeful that we will be together again soon.

Epidemiologists say we are going through a dark time and indeed it is. We know, however, that the dawn is coming, and light will shine.  It is our responsibility to do all we can to protect each other so that we can all celebrate together in the near future.

We are together...apart, until we can be together...again.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Counting

In an unfathomable scene from this week's Torah portion, we see Abraham arguing with God.  What makes it more incomprehensible is that God seemingly invites this challenge.  The story is well known and retold often.  God had decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in what seems as an afterthought, God decided to tell Abraham of the Divine plan.  The Torah tells us what God is thinking when it tells us that God said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?"  By confiding in Abraham, God is offering Abraham the opportunity to challenge the Divine plan.  Abraham, doing something that Noah generations before never did, steps into the breach and challenges God's intended action.  He asks God, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" And so begins the most famous failed negotiation in our People's tradition.

Abraham asks God would you destroy an entire city if there were fifty righteous people within?  Would God really destroy the fifty righteous and not forgive the city for the sake of their fifty?  Abraham and God go back and forth from fifty to forty-five to forty to thirty to twenty to ten.  Each time God accedes to Abraham's plea, but as they count down, they cannot find the righteous number of people in the city. 

We read this story each year, but this year it seems different.  The fate of the cities is sealed because they are wholly wicked.  As they countdown, God and Abraham are valuing every righteous person, but cannot even find ten.  We know how the story ends.  The only righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah are Lot and his family.  God saves them, but it is not enough to save the cities.  

There are many lessons to be learned from this story, and this year I cannot help but see the emphasis our Torah places on the countdown.  Looking for the righteous is not the same as looking for votes, but it reminds us that each of us count.  Although the back and forth between God and Abraham ended at ten, in the end, God was concerned with every righteous soul. 

As God counts the righteous souls, each of us should count on Election Day and every day.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

 

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