The 2 Ways to Live a Good Life: Parashat Chayei Sarah

In Lech Lecha, Avraham is given the most difficult trials of his lifetime, amasses his enormous fortune; safely travelling far and wide with his beautiful wife, Sarah, and lives a very eventful, challenging, and rewarding life. That is, until the Akeida. 

Parshat Chayei Sarah immediately follows Parshat Lech Lecha and creates a stark contrast in not only pacing, but the story-telling puts these two parshot at extreme opposition with one another. It feels almost contradictory to what’s happened.

The Akeida is not only Avraham’s greatest test, but it is also the trial that changes the course of his story. The fallout between him and Yitzchak is irreparable and the two are never together again. Not only does it ruin his relationship with his favourite son, but the shock of the news kills even his wife.

Following through with G-d’s command had serious repercussions for Avraham. If he had known this, would he have still been so eager?

After the climax of the Akeida and Sarah’s death (ironically called, “The Life of Sarah”), Avraham’s life totally changes when Yitzchak leaves after they come down the mountain. After Sarah is buried in the Cave of Machpeila, the father and son part ways forever and Avraham is left to settle down with a new wife and start another family: a new phase of his life that fulfills the rest of G-d’s blessing to Avraham, but only after securing a bride for Yitzchak. Despite the fact his son won’t talk to him anymore, Avraham still insists on ensuring his son is cared for.

This is when we go from learning about the an unimaginable, incomparable, one-time sacrifice that ruins an entire family of Patriarchs, to focusing on the seemingly mundane life-cycle events of Jewish burial and matrimony.

In many ways, these parshot could not be more different. In another way, it is commentating on these events accurately. Despite the drama of it all, there couldn’t have been a more solemn time in Avraham’s life than mourning the loss of his most beloved wife and son, and meets the end of his old life all at the same time; both losses being a direct result of his own actions. Perhaps it’s fitting that these seem almost like two separate authors.

I can’t help but wonder what Yitzchak was thinking after coming down the mountain. Perhaps he left his father not only because of the trauma of the Akeida and losing his mother, but he wouldn’t take part in “Avraham’s Adventures” any longer. I didn’t even like being dragged to the grocery store by my parents, never mind a three-day journey to a mountaintop to be used as a sacrifice.

Maybe Yitzchak leaves his father to start his own spiritual journey, independent of Avraham’s legacy. Yitzchak chooses to serve G-d in his own way; in a tranquil field, awaiting the love of his life.

It also feels like a bit of a sick joke that Avraham is promised generations of righteous descendants, but G-d never shared that it would not be with Sarah; who was only given one son. But it also shows Avraham is willing to accept the repercussions of his actions and continue to do his best to follow G-d’s path for him. Avraham decides the end of his own story by choosing creation (and procreation) over self-destruction. Even if the end of his story is plain and uneventful, he chose it.

There is more than one way to choose to do good. We don’t need to live the most exciting lives at every moment. Everything we do doesn’t need to consciously contribute to some grander scheme. We can not always be making miracles–there comes a time when we need to settle down and enjoy a peaceful existence and Yitzchak demonstrates living our lives with intention is enough. But we must also be like Avraham, always ready to answer our call-to-action.

Parashat Noach — A Poem: The Flood

I had a lot of trouble finding meaning in this week’s parashat: Noach. After meditating on it, I realized it’s because I didn’t relate to Noach or life in the ark. I couldn’t relate to the experience of being saved on a surface level. I had to dig deeper and ask myself a lot of question. And keep asking questions. In the end, I couldn’t come to an articulate conclusion, so I wrote this short poem based on what I scribbled down in the midst of this:

A gift from G-d
this beautiful, fragile thing
She built us an ark
to weather my stormy days
Pulling me in
to survive the flood together
I see the dove returning
and have hope again

That’s it for this week.

Until next time,

—J

Bereishit: The Ultimate Sin, Or The Ultimate Gift? (Part 2 of 2, Eve’s Gift)

Like I said in Part 1, I have a lot to say about Eve’s half of this story. Eve’s story is all about freewill vs. divine intervention, and what humanity’s purpose really is. It’s the most important lesson in Parshah Bereishit: The Story Of Creation.

“Man” only became living after the Earth was completed, but the earth was still desolate:
“-when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD G-d had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil,” (GENESIS 2:5)

“The LORD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” (GENESIS 2:15)

If the Earth needed tending by Man to attain the image of G-d, why were we placed in the Garden of Eden? And if the Garden of Eden is perfect and never changes, why must Man tend to the garden when fruit will grow regardless? Why are we already being asked to work in the Garden of Eden?

If Man was made to tend to the Earth, why were we placed in the Garden to begin with? It must have been in G-d’s plan to be cast out of Eden.

But when it became clear Adam would not disobey G-d and would not eat from the tree of knowledge, He sends the snake “-the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made.” to persuade Eve into taking the fruit of the tree of knowledge and feeding it to Adam. (GENESIS 3:1)

If Man was made to tend to the Earth, but was placed in the garden, then G-d’s plan for Man was to be banished from the garden from the beginning. But why?

If we’re created in G-d’s image and we are flawed, that must mean G-d is flawed as well, but perfectly flawed. Later, He even admits “-the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.” (GENESIS 6:6)

Even G-d makes mistakes. He also has the power the rectify His mistakes—and we do too. Our imperfections are a reflection of the Almighty power of the universe, making them intentional and perfect. He and we are all flawed, and this similarity makes us His.

The LORD mistakenly put Man in the garden and in turn, we failed to meet His expectations. He rectified this mistake by sending the snake to guide Eve into making the decision she was designed to make. Eve was set-up to commit this “ultimate sin”, but I think the knowledge of good and bad—our conscience—was Man’s first gift from G-d and we owe Eve thanks.

Eve was given Man’s ultimate gift: freewill.


She was given the first choice. We (like Eve) do not choose to be born into a world set up for us to fail, but we can choose what we do with it. Whether we choose to sin or follow G-d, freewill id a gift that we do not appreciate until choice is taken away from us.

Moses, Abraham and even Adam were granted many miracles by G-d, but they were never given the opportunity to choose like Eve was given.

Eve’s gift was the power to create everlasting change. The power of self-awareness and consciousness. The blessing of emotions and empathy. Without Eve, we wouldn’t have the freewill to choose goodness. To follow a righteous path. To serve the world and bring about a never-ending era of peace.

I argue that Eve’s punishment—the pain of childbirth—is supposed to be the most pain Man can feel. But we survive. Maybe without this punishment, Man would be too fragile to survive outside of Eden. Maybe we need to accept G-d’s punishment for what it is: a lesson in survival.

Pain makes us resilient, independent and teaches us harsh lessons we would have never learned otherwise. Discomfort forces us out of our comfort zone, our “paradise”and pushes us out of it. G-d wanted to produce strong, determined women who choose to survive, to keep Judaism and social justice alive, and show us how to use our freewill.

Maybe humanity was never cut out for Eden, a “paradise” where we live forever and nothing ever changes. Maybe Eve did us a favour by committing “The Ultimate Sin”—by giving humanity the opportunity to repair the world we keep messing up. Being cast out of the garden was the ultimate gift; giving us morality and purpose, rather than living in a never-changing paradise we could never be satisfied with.

What will you do with your gift of humanity?

Until next time,

—J

The Month Of Elul: Rehearsing For A New Year

Feel free to download this and print it off as a colouring sheet!

The head of the year, Rosh Hashanah, is upon us.

“Shanah tovah um’tukah,” means “May you have a good and sweet new year.”

The King is in the field, and so, it is our time to speak with him.

Preparing for this Mitzvah requires an entire month. The month of Elul is all about introspection. We take the time to evaluate ourselves, to show G-d our best nature and prove why we deserve another year of this life—to continue to serve The King.

After Elul comes the two days of Rosh Hashanah. This is the time in which G-d decides our fate for the next coming year. Will it be “good and sweet”, or will it be our last?

How will you prepare for death?

An old Rabbi asked the class. He was sharing his hatred for Rosh Hashanah… and what the old Rabbi said made me fall in love with this Mitzvah.

To summarize, the pressure of the Lord’s judgement, he said, was terrifying to him. He asked his class, “How could I possibly be ready to answer to G-d? Have you cast none wrong? Of course no one is clean. So to this, I say, I will never be ready.”

You are judged in this life by more than just G-d. Society also judges us—not necessarily by the good we do in the world, but what we guilty for. We also judge ourselves: for those silent moments where we know we could have made a difference, but did nothing.

Your emotional baggage holds you back from more than just opportunities—it will hold you back from a peaceful death. And this is what Rosh Hashanah and the month of Elul are all about. I can say I was more than ready to “take stock of my soul” after this past year. What I need most right now is purpose and there could be no better opportunity than this Mitzvah.

But how do you “take stock” of your soul? What does that even mean?

While the sages provide no instruction past the Six Stages of T’shuvah, there are also fundamental mitzvot to guide us through this soul-searching.

Opening our hearts to forgiveness, preparing our souls for an intense 10 days of repentance and prayer, and giving tzedakah (to charity) are critical in preparation for the High Holy Days. As Sephardim, we even start reading Psalm 27 right on Rosh Chodesh: the first day of Elul, 40 days before Yom Kippur.

My tips for a successful Rosh Hashanah:
1. Spend the month of Elul in solitude. This really helped me attune to my inner-self and better articulate my needs, attitudes, ideologies, regrets, and hopes for the coming year.
2. Have your Machzor handy (or print out the selection of prayers for Rosh Hashanah if you don’t own the payer book)
3. Make a list for tashlich—things you wish to cast away “unto the waters” and never see again.
4. Create spiritual resolutions for the year. Prioritize things like sharing more time with family or becoming more vulnerable in your relationships—goals with deep meaning that will benefit your soul.
5. Give tzedakah (Donate to charity)—it’s Shmittah (Sabbatical) Year, so don’t be a cheapskate!
6. Plan your meals around synagogue—there is no more important time of year to show up for your community than the High Holy Days!
7. Pray to the graves of the righteous. Visit the graves of your beloved and Jewish memorials. I will visit at least one abandoned rural cemetery or prison cemetery to pray for those who have no one left to pray for them.
8. Send out greeting cards—it’s cliché, but for good reason!

There’s a lot you need to do to prepare for the perfect Rosh Hashanah. Having the potential to change your fate for the next year is a lot of pressure! You see why it takes an entire month for us to prepare?

You still have time to rehearse your new role in the world. What role will you play?

Do you deserve a good and sweet year?

Sources:
Chabad.org
MyJewishLearning.com
ReformJudaism.org