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Ode to the Mommas and the Poppas

08/02/2019 11:29:45 AM


At times, Abraham was blinded by ambition

and Sarah by jealousy,

Isaac by fear and Rebecca by agency,

Jacob and Esau, could often only see each other’s back,

Rachel and Leah got stuck in minds full of lack. 

Each of them, our “heroes,” lived lives worthy of attention,

but not because they were any kind of visions of perfection.


I love the fact that our ancestors were notorious sinners!

And by notorious, I simply mean, “well-known,” and by “sinners,” I mean just that – they were people whose stories, canonized by the Torah, reveal imperfect creations of God living imperfect lives with imperfect means.  This is probably why our sainted rabbis of old, for the opening days of Rosh Hashanah chose from two Torah stories that highlight Abraham and Sarah in not such good light.  In one, a jealousy-wrought Sarah orders her husband, Abraham, to expel their maid-servant Hagar and Ishmael (Abraham and Hagar’s child) from their camp, leaving them as it were, in the desert to die.  In the other, Abraham accedes to God’s command to take his (and Sarah’s) son, Isaac, to the top of a mountain and offer him up as a sacrifice (spoiler alert, God saves Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac…).

Can you imagine a moment in life that could cause people to be blind to the pain of others or to be so passionately driven by ambition that one’s very moral fiber slithers out of one’s skin?  These stories are not fables; they are not morally driven tales that seek to threaten or scare us into certain kinds of behavior. No, they are meant for us to ponder, to wrestle with, to challenge us to ask the most difficult questions – “How have I, how might I really respond when its them or me?  When have I allowed jealousy or ambition or just plain fear to overtake my better notions? And when haven’t I?  When have I failed and when I have succeeded?  When have I been silent and when have I shown up?” 

The High Holy Days is a time for self-assessment, for recognition of our failures and our successes.  Another year has gone and another year commences.  We come into the month of Tishrei (This year - Rosh Hashanah = 1st day of Tishrei (Sept 29-30), Yom Kippur = 10th day of Tishrei (Oct 8-9), each of us with different life experiences, some of us raised up by a bounty of blessings, and some of us weighed down by the trials of life.  At the Shma Koleinu High Holy days, we welcome everyone, for this is a retreat for the soul, at times filled with abundance and joy, and at others, with difficult reflection and self-evaluation.  No matter what, though, you are welcome and we want you to be here with us. 

Don’t you think that a thousands-year old tradition should offer more than the sentiment of “when’s it over?”  Join us, you already belong.

Fri, February 28 2020 3 Adar 5780