November 2nd, 2012 – Insight following the blackout of hurricane Sandy: I cannot complain, it’s been a series of Shabbat-like days: no alarm clock, time for music, reading and playing board games. But it gets really dark really early. This morning, a new insight: the morning blessing Yotzeir ohr –which recognizes God as the fashioner light, (of the sky and of the soul?), is so much more powerful when the darkness is more complete – that a candle can just barely push it away a little. The fall of night is more powerful, that you become more keenly aware of the blessing of daylight. But it always bothered me that the Yotzeir included God as the creator of darkness, because darkness IS the absence of light. But to know that in the darkness is goodness, that God’s there too, is beautiful. There is plenty of God in the dark, but it takes a little faith that it’s there, though you might not be able to see it.
This idea of finding faith is strong in this week’s Torah portion, Vayera (an overwhelmingly rich portion!)
It contains messages in the anxiously awaited births, of two kids: Ishmael, God will hear and Yitzchak, Isaac a child named laughter. I think all children should be named laughter! Ironically we only know that Isaac/Yitzchak’s parents laugh.,We never hear Isaac laugh, and he will have reason to scream soon enough…
Our entire future depends upon those kids, and Abraham knows this very well. Though he and Sarah are barren, their son’s–existence was foretold to Abraham by God, as was both sons’ survival – Abraham was going to have descendants, as many as the sands and the stars. But Abraham is a skeptic, as am I, unfortunately, not in the existence of God, but that the future will be OK, bitachon. This is my deepest challenge, how do you handle these doubts that things will be OK even in the midst of powerful challenges to our future…?
So Abraham lacks Faith in the future. He falls down laughing when told he and Sarah will have a son Abraham once again fears for his life due to Sarah’s overwhelming beauty – he feels threatened by her beauty, Sarah keeps that faith, perhaps. Abraham asks her: tell them you’re my sister, they’ll kill me to have you if you tell them you’re my wife! And she agrees. Perhaps Abraham lacks faith that God’s nature is Goodness and righteousness: When Abe argues for the future of the people of Sodom perhaps he asks ha-shofet kol ha-aretz lo ya-aseh mishpat Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right? ( the question mark is never placed in the Torah, no punctuation) He doesn’t know: so Abe asks. The answer he receives is that the whole city would be saved for the sake of ten righteous people. After these things, Sarah cries for Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away – set free (Hagar’s a slave)? or sent to die in the desert? Abraham is afraid for the future of his son, and seeks God’s counsel. Have faith, says God, the boy will be well. So Abraham gets up early to send off his son and the boy’s mother with a single skin of water. Soon Abe is put to a test, the infamous binding of Isaac. He rises early to this task as well. Perhaps the test is whether Abe will once again argue for right as he did at S’dom, or for his son’s life, as he did with Ishmael, and in that case Abe fails God’s test. Or perhaps, Abraham finally has the faith of Bitachon, that the prophesy that he’d have descendants can be trusted, that the judge of all the earth does righteousness, and will not allow murder. (But it does still leaves the unanswerable: would a righteous God test by asking for murder? Perhaps Abraham’s just gotten the message wrong)
The survival of both Isaac/ laughter and Ishmael, relies on God’s power power to lift his parents’ eyes, so life is renewed Hagar lifts her eyes when God hears (!) Ishmael’s cry so she can see the well of water before her. Abraham’s eyes are lifted to be able to see a mountain, and a ram caught in the thicket. S This rebirth is paralleled in this incredible story from the Haftarah. There is a great woman who is barren. The prophet Elisha, whom she recognizes as a man of God often passes through on his journey, and she puts him up as a guest in her home. The woman decides to build for Elisha his own room on her roof, with a bed, table and lamp. Elisha then prophesizes that this woman will bear a son, and she is skeptical, wanting to know that all will be OK. And she does bear a son. But one day the son goes to his father in the field and is struck with a blinding headache and falls unconscious, presumed dead!. The mother places her son on the prophet’s bed and runs to speak to Elisha. You have responsibility for my son’s life, you told me the future would be OK! Elisha must agree, for he then hurries to give CPR to this boy, resulting in this miracle in the middle of the day, behind closed doors, the boy sneezes and opens his eyes to re-life. Faith that life is a miracle, and we can be reborn each day as the sunlight animates our world each day.
There is this wonderful song by Alan Goodis, which captures so much of these feelings of doubt, faith, rebirth and God as the power to lift our eyes to hope and life: It’s a setting of Esa einai – which means: I lift my eyes to the heavens, where will my help come from, my help will come from God, maker of heaven and earth. Usually it is up to us to lift our own eyes, windows to our souls This setting was written following the death of a friend of Goodis’ and his personal journey which follows.
I look up, You’re not there, I’m not ready, I’m not prepared,
I need strength to climb, I reach but still I find, that I’m weak and I’m scared
Esah einai el he-harim, me-ayin yavo ezri
I need rest, I can’t sleep, awake and still I grieve, so if I fall out of reach, don’t let me be…
Where is my joy when the world goes dark? Where is my faith when I am torn apart?
Where is my strength till the pain subsides? Where is the light till I can realize?
Let rest be upon me, Let peace be with me ..tonight…
My help will come from the One, who made heaven and earth…