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Parshas Shoftim - Getting Close from a Distance         1 Elul 5780

08/21/20 11:48:13

Aug21

These past six months - and hopefully no more than that - have seen history in the making, a phrase referring to an ongoing current event, will be remembered for all the stress, fear, pain and loss this pandemic has caused, altering our way of life and our view of the future. I think it would be difficult to find an individual whose day -n-day-out routine  has not been impacted by Covid-19. The life cycle events that touch upon those who are either celebrating or mourning has resulted in the now daily term: ‘zoom’ – applied to virtual attendance of weddings, bar mitzvas, brisim, funerals, shiva calls, and also extended to annual medical physicals, conferences, and teaching.  Zoom has now become part of our daily lexicon. 

In Orthodox tradition in varying degrees and communities, there is separation amongst the genders for different life cycle events.  But of the list mentioned earlier, one event - a thirteen year-old boy’s Bar Mitzva - has most of the participation on the men’s side. This was typically true thirteen years prior at this boy’s Bris Milah! Witnessing these events, I recognized the incredible sacrifice and giving that a mother has for her son. For these events she stands in the background, watching from a distance beaming with pride and joy, selflessly giving away her son for service. This prototype may well have been established by Chana, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi.  Chana  willingly gave her son to the service of Hashem. A loving and caring mother consistently gives a piece of herself to her child never looking away or abandoning her young – no matter how old her child may be. The strength of a mother to give and separate while still maintaining such close, dedicated connection is something only a mother can know and experience. I do not want to dismiss the sacrifice that a father makes as well. Of course, within the beauty of a dedicated family, the father’s love and commitment are equally strong, but tend to be in balance rather than identical to the mother.  There is no question both parents raise their children together, knowing what is best for them encouraging each child to grow, becoming his or her own person.  Within this environment, each parent balances this nurturing in a unique and loving way. It is this sense of connection and relationship that causes the child to always look back at the parent with love and deep connection as well.

This reminds me of the famous mashal/parable about a little boy who stood on a beach looking out at the vast sea holding onto a flag. In the distance was a group of young boys playing, but the boy remained totally oblivious to them and their games. A man approached him and asked, ”Why don’t you go play with the boys” The boy replied: “I have no time for games.  I am waiting for a boat to pass by and at that moment I will wave my flag at the boat, and the captain of the ship will wave his flag back at me.”  The man chuckled at the boy saying, “What are you thinking? The large ships cannot get that close to the shoreline. These large ships are moving quickly, and the captain of the ship is not going to slow down. He will not be able to distinguish you from anything on the beach. Why don’t you just go play with your friends?” The boy answered, ”That is exactly the type of ship I am waiting for, the large one that goes fast. I am sure then the captain of that ship will see me waving my flag and he will do the same.”

The man was no longer chuckling but burst out laughing at the boy. “The captain of that kind of large vessel is a high-ranking officer and an elite important person, stated the man. “First of all I doubt that the captain could even see you from such a distance, and I cannot imagine that even if he could see you, why would he direct his attention necessarily towards you? On top of that, why would he bother to wave back at you at all?” The boy said in a stubborn manner, “I am sure that not only will he will be looking for me, but when he sees me he will be happy and glad to wave his flag back at me, because he knows I was waving at him. The captain will be so happy when he sees me being so happy.” The man finally said to the boy, “How can you be so sure of what you are saying?” The boy looked up at the man and with a smile,  looked deeply into the eyes of the man saying,  ”Because the captain of the ship is my father”!

This story, taken from Rabbi Krohn’s book, Around the Maggid’s Table, is a mashal applicable to all of us today. With all we are dealing with in every aspect of our lives, we may tend to feel disconnected from our religious and Jewish life. We are like the boy on the beach, but we just cannot give in and just go play with our friends. We need to look out, holding our banner, a sign of commitment and devotion, waving at the appropriate and meaningful times to gain the attention of  the captain. The captain of this ship is Hashem;  when we wave and show we are connected, we care, then He, without doubt, will wave back at us in good fortune.

Hashem waits for us all the time, every day throughout the entire year, but more so during the last month of the year Elul. Hashem is drawing closer to us so we can see Him and wave and connect. This is one of the meanings to the acronym of  -  אלול Elul “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me.”            

Contrary to popular belief, we are not living in unprecedented times; the world has experienced greater hardships throughout its history. God has just thrown us a new reminder of not only who is in control; He is reminding us that He is our father and our mother, He, regardless of what may be happening to us, wants a strong, eternal relationship The nurturing and giving that we have received from Hashem was established before birth and is a connection forever.  Occasionally we may forget.  As we now begin the month of Elul, we hope and pray the year will end with the cessation of all its curses, and we will be blessed with  a fresh start in the coming weeks. All we need to remember is  that now is the time to look out above and beyond and start to wave our flags!

Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781