This latest piece from my newspaper column is part of a four part series I have written about the current Hilton Head Mayoral Race. My focus has been on exposing the the public that two candidates have made openly hostile comments about the denial of the Holocaust and admiration for Adolph Hitler. My purpose has been to inform the community about these candidates viewpoints because I believe that our community has a right to know who they are voting for in this election. Have a good read and tell me what you think.
Rabbi Brad Bloom
Saturday, October 20, 2018
A life journey isn’t always a straight line from beginning to end. Sometimes a journey feels more like a line that goes down and then heads up and for others like a zig zag. I suppose it all depends upon how we approach the living and the great moments of triumph and success as compared to those times when we feel as if we were on a descent of sorts.
Jewish spiritual language likens those same ups and downs to a spiritual ascent called an aliya and the opposite, a descent, which is commonly called a y’ridah or descent. I suppose that is why Israelis call immigrating to Israel -making aliyah- and leaving the land as y’ridah or descending.
We find ourselves doing things in a life journey that we would have never imagined us doing in order to solve a problem, resolve a conflict, make a peace, bring comfort or face a difficult truth. At some point we look at the sunset and contemplate. “How did I do in this life? How did I measure up to those challenges? Was it worth all that I did?
I have to wonder about our patriarch Abraham and the arc of his life journeys too. The Torah portion portrays him engaged on several journeys after God call us him to the ultimate challenge to inaugurate a new vision for humanity and a new belief system of a covenant between God and the Jewish people.Did Abraham have his ascents and descents in life too?
We see that the first new journey he makes at seventy-five years old is a spiritual ascent from his original homeland of Haran in Babylonia to the Land of Canaan. In chapter twelve Abraham enters the Promised Land and travels to a few places where each time he sets up an altar to give thanks to Adonai the Lord of all.
Yet that first ascent to the land of Canaan was short lived because in that same chapter the text says; “There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt and dwelt there for the famine was severe there” (12:10). Suddenly there is a famine and he leaves the Promised Land. I wonder if we look at those words with a deeper perspective how could we understand the meaning of the famine and his descent into Egypt followed by his eventual return or ascent back to the Land of Canaan? And is there another level of meaning for us related to the life journeys we all experience? The meaning may vary but what is important is that we see the connections between all our life journeys and how each of them contributed to making us who we are.
The Torah tells us about several instances when our Patriarchs experienced famines and felt forced to go down to Egypt. Not only did Abram go down to Egypt during a famine but Isaac, his son, also faced a famine in Canaan and left Canaan in search of food. Joseph’s brothers also faced a famine and ultimately went down to Egypt to find food which led them to come face to face with their long lost brother Joseph. So there seems to be trend that famines occur in the lives of the Patriarchs and going down to Egypt is a short term solution but never seems to solve the underlying issues.
The story of Abram in Egypt goes on to tell how he prepared his wife Sarai that when they arrive in Egypt to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister and not his wife. Again was this a test of his personal integrity or was it justified for their survival? Ultimately Pharaoh is about take her as his wife when God brings a fever upon Pharaoh and his court so that Pharaoh rebukes Abram for hiding the fact that she is his wife. And they left with food and clothing and returned to Canaan with enough supplies to survive and even prosper.
Were these tests of Abram’s character and resourcefulness? Was his lying to Pharaoh part of that life journey that maybe we have all had to do things we would not have preferred to do but felt compelled to do for the betterment of ourselves and our responsibilities to our families? Does the famine symbolize a descent of moral character? Does his return to Canaan represent a return to the better side of himself or a renewal of his original mission to fulfill God’s calling to him?
When we experience a famine of the soul it means that something is missing in our lives and that we have a hunger for truth, enlightenment and renewal. Is it possible that Abram was looking for his own voice when he left Canaan? To balance spiritual needs with the physical needs?
Sometimes a life journey makes us take a step or two backwards before we can move forward. Sometimes we face the disappointment and even failures in our lives not just in jobs but in relationships. Isn’t that part of living today just as it might have been in Abram’s times too?
Have we not all heard that maxim, it is not how we go down but how we get up in life that really matters? Is that the upshot of Abram’s descent or going down into Egypt? Is that not the same for us when we take a hit in life? For Abram the Midrash says that his return to Canaan was the first of many tests in his life leading up to the ultimate test which was his going up to Canaan and ultimately up to Mount Moriah which is where in the next week’s Torah portion he would comply with God’s command to offer Isaac up for a sacrifice. How we respond to the tests that life presents us with says a great deal about our character. It did so for Abram and it does for us as well.
Rabbah taught his students:
In the world to come every person is led you before the judgment seat of God and will be asked several questions.
Did you conduct your business affairs with integrity?
Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah?
Did you fulfill the commitment to procreation?
Did you hope for salvation?
Did you occupy yourself with the study of wisdom?
Finally, Did you learn to understand how one thing follows from one another? (Talmud Shabbat31a)