Monday, November 24, 2014

Parshat Toldot: Why me?? Encountering pain in our lives

Hello world,

Well it's been a while since I've written a blog entry...My one sentence update is I am still in rabbinical school on track to be ordained in 2016 (b"h) and I have an internship in scottsdale AZ at a great shul.

I wanted to share the drash (sermon) I wrote to give this past shabbat morning, shabbat toldot.

Here it is if you are interested:

My name is Becca which is short for Rebecca, and I got my name from this Torah portion, this is totally my Torah portion. My parents named me after Rebecca because she is wise and she outsmarts husband….but I'm not gonna talk about that part now, instead we are going to go back earlier in the portion and go back to when Rebecca was pregnant.

Rebecca while she is pregnant with Jacob and Esau is really suffering. As it says Jacob and Esau were fighting in their mother’s womb, and the pain Rebecca was experiencing caused her to cry out. Rebecca said: Im Ken lama zeh anochi, If this is so, why am I? She cries out…why me?? Why am I experiencing such pain?

Rebecca feels alone in her pain and suffering, and she feels she has no one to turn to, so she turns to God and asks God to explain her suffering.

Through midrash on this text we hear more about Rebecca’s experience. Rebecca goes to the other women of the town to ask them about their own pregnancies and if they experienced the pain and suffering she is currently going through. When she asks, all the women tell her no, they did not suffer in that way. Rebecca is alone. The women don’t offer her sympathy they further alienate her by telling her she is different. I would imagine this would only make Rebecca feel worse. At a time where she is reaching out for support she is shut out, And so she cries out to God—why me-- and demands an answer.

Rebecca’s question rings true for many situations. Maybe we are experiencing personal pain and loss, maybe we are suffering alone physically or mentally, or grieving a loved one, maybe we are sick. We ask ourselves: Lamah zeh anochi. Why me? Why this me?

Rebecca’s pain and suffering struck me this week, in a week where I sometimes feel like the world is falling apart. After the terrorist attack in a synagogue in Jerusalem earlier this week, I was at a loss, again. I still have nothing to say about it, but I want to share an excerpt of a letter from the four women who are now widows as a result of this attack. These women wrote a letter to the public Thursday. In their wisdom and grief they are giving us a way to approach our pain.

This is a translation of part of what they wrote:

With tears and broken hearts from the blood that has been spilled, the blood of holy ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes (Hy’d),

We turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the people of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to stay united [to merit] compassion and mercy from on High. We should accept upon ourselves to increase love and affection for each other, whether between a person and his fellow, whether between distinct communities within the Jewish people.

We beseech that each and every person accepts upon himself or herself this Shabbat, that it should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.

By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands.
G-d looks down from Above, and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare “Enough — to all the pain and grief.”

Chaya Levine
Breine Goldberg
Yakova Kupinsky
Bashi Twersky
and their families

These widows are asking us to love freely. Love each other, love our community and other communities.

Unlike Rebecca who turns inward, these women are asking us to turn outwards to comfort each other and perform acts of kindness for each other…and maybe that is all we can do when faced with such a tragic situation.

In regards to more individual experiences of pain, I think a similar idea can apply. In the Talmud we are taught that one who visits the sick is as if they take away 1/60th of the pain. This is not some magical formula, this Talmudic statement is commenting on the power of empathy, when we go to another who is suffering and listen and love, we can help.

There was a great healer in the Talmud named Rabbi Yochanan. He healed many sick men. But when Rabbi Yochanan, became sick, he could not heal himself. His friend Rabbi Hanina came to visit him. Hanina said to him, “Give me your hand.” Hanina took Rabbi Yochanan’s hand and raised him up from his bed, healing him. The Talmud asks: “Why couldn’t Rabbi Yochanan raise himself?” -- “Because,” the rabbis answer, “the prisoner cannot free himself from prison.”

We can’t do this alone. We need each other to help us break out and break free. Rebecca cried out in despair and loneliness, and God comforted her. Like God helps Rebecca to feel free from her prison of suffering by being there for her, we too can take that role of empathizer for each other…

Like in the story of Rabbi Yochanan we can help release others from being trapped, helping to reduce more than just 1/60th of the pain. We can do this through supportive presence, kindness and love.

As a community, I want to challenge us to follow the Jerusalem widows’ request to love freely this Shabbat, with our words and our actions. I pray that we can use this time to connect and to lift up each other. That we can help bring each other out from the narrow places to a place of optimism and hope.

I wish us all a Shabbat of comfort, of love and of peace.

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