First off, a very special thanks to Ben, from whom I have learned so much. It has been a pleasure writing this blog with you for the last THREE YEARS! Wow!!! You are a kind and decent human being, a great writer and your insight to the Parsha, and Judaism in general is inspiring.
Second, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who reads this blog and to everyone we have learned from, and for me especially I’d like to thank Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Rabbi Avi Rabin, Howard Witkin, Jonah Light, Jason Katz, Saul Blinkoff, Sal Litvak, Rabbi Shalom Denbo, Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, and Rabbi Moshe Bryski, and my Wednesday learning group who has taken way too long of a vacation (Avi, Julian, Mark, Gary, and Ralph)! And also the books and teachings of Rebbe Nachman, Rebbe Noah Weinberg, Rabbi David Aaron and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
The Community Shul. Saturday, April 14. Five Jewish dads from Parkland, Florida were in the community for an immersive Shabbat. Saul Blinkoff met them on a men’s trip and bonded with them, well before the tragedy. And now, he brought them to LA to share their stories.
Luckily, none of them lost a child, but all of their children, all of the community is forever changed. Almost all of their children lost friends, and are and will be directly and emotionally impacted and scarred for the rest of their lives. As they mostly did, we will avoid the politics of gun control and violence and focus on the Jewish lessons… the life lessons. As Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld so beautifully said… they came to learn about the community, and wound up teaching all of us.
I asked how they balance the absolute miracle and relief and joy that their children survived, with the role they must play as support for the friends and families who were not so lucky. The common response was that, that is the struggle right now… that is the challenge.
And here is what Shlomo said:
The Torah does not refer to us as Jews, but as the Children of Israel. We came to be that, after Jacob spent a night wrestling something or someone who has been bit of mystery for thousands of years. Was it a man as it says in the text, was it Esau or the guardian of Esau as the Sages say? Was it an angel, as the prophet Hosea says… or was it G-d? Or perhaps it was Jacob wrestling with himself or his demons. It was definitely the “archetypal struggle between good and evil.”
I think all of the answers, at least in a metaphorical sense, are right on and provide us with the very definition of life…
We wrestle with other humans, we wrestle with ourselves and our own doubts and demons, and yes, we wrestle with G-d.
The angel finally asked Jacob to release him. He agreed under the condition that he be given a blessing, which showed a bit of chutzpah, but then again… we’re Jews. “…then, as dawn was about to break… Jacob acquired the name that his descendants would bear throughout eternity.” (Jonathan Sacks)
We, the Children of Israel, were born out of struggle. We literally came to be, by wrestling with Man AND G-d. The is what Shlomo said. He used both Man and G-d. I have usually heard it only as wrestling with G-d, but this has a much deeper, profound and more meaningful lesson. Jews do not lay down and accept things. We wrestle with things, question things. This is an essential part of Judaism and what puts us in a true relationship with G-d… an active relationship, not a static one. We show chutzpah and nerve. We talk, we wrestle, we question and debate.
We wrestle with survivor’s guilt, as the men talked about… we wrestle with the “man/child” who carried out this heinous act. We wrestle with the missed signs… the mistakes and repeated mistakes… the bad laws, etc.
WE WRESTLE WITH EVERYTHING!
Why it directly affects me so much right now, and why this was something I needed to hear again, is that I am severely wrestling with faith right now, severely questioning.
And what gives me hope is somewhat of an irony.
On more than one occasion, while I have been praying or speaking with G-d, I have declared that I am lost… cried out that I feel I am losing connection and faith because of the blackness and darkness I seem to be in… and yet, I am declaring this… speaking this… screaming this… to Hashem.
So the positive is that it is all in conversation with G-d… and I am well aware of the fact that if those conversations stop, it is then that I am in real trouble.
I proclaim that I am casting my burden on you, Hashem. I am going through the Six Constant Mitzvoh, and often struggle, at least right now, with the line “Know that G-d loves you.”
In the Seven Steps To Trusting Hashem, which I use as my daily preparation for prayer (thanks to Rabbi Denbo), I wrestle with the idea that Hashem knows everything I want and can give me everything I want and that I do not have the power… but that I also do not have to deserve it. Maybe I don’t… I’ve been eating myself up a lot lately, and that is rarely helpful or good.
G-d created me as I am, and yet I am struggling with things that I created and things I did not… unhappy with the bed I have made for myself… and not doing what I want to or need to be doing.
There is stress, anxiety and depression in almost every aspect of my life right now… career struggles… financial struggles… a kid going off to college next Fall… the dreams of my youth seem to fading… the dissolution of a marriage that has been over for a while but is moving toward a legal end. It is a battle, my friends… but one I so openly share, not as a look at me or a spotlight, but as a moment to bond, as I know many of us are hurting and suffering right now… on many fronts.
Even the great and inspirational Rebbe Nachman apparently suffered from deep depression. Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest of places.
This blog, for me, was and is about my journey towards Judaism, which of course, is also a journey about life, which is why I hold very little back. I feel that the more open I am, the more we will connect. The more specific I am, the more universal our connection is. We are all the same, in so many areas and so many things.
I am slipping, but have not yet let go the rope… of Jacob’s ladder! And I am still actively wrestling with the angel, with myself and yes, with Hashem. And this is for me, is part of my learning and growing and journey into Judaism.
So let us all continue to wrestle, and to hopefully triumph, and to always remember that we became the Children of Israel… we are who we are… by and because… WE WRESTLE WITH EVERYTHING!
Here’s to another 300 posts! Thank you!!!