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Parshas Vayeira - Distance: Question is How Far or Close?       19 Cheshvan 5784

11/03/2023 09:01:50 AM


 As of this writing, the war in Israel is concluding its first month. B’Ezras Hashem, all of us, in Israel, here in San Diego, and throughout the U.S. and the world, will get through the many challenges of this war and of the growing world-wide evidence of antisemitism. As Jews of Israel are now fighting a war on two fronts – on the northern border of Israel, dealing with  Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran - in addition to the war in Gaza to the south - the ability to maintain the necessary attention for our brethren in Israel grows more challenging. We had a successful emergency fundraising campaign, including several rallies in support of Israel which were well- attended by a host of Jews. Here in our shul, we have been saying Tehillim twice a day and have added the recitation of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), a tefillah (prayer) we say from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, in our davening. The question always comes up is ‘how long should such extra tefillos should be recited? Some have expressed concern that saying additional prayers adds time to the length of the service. It is unfortunate that some view these extra few minutes as a burden on the Tzibur/community. I recently heard Rav Mordechai Willig voicing some of my sentiments on this matter. First, I want to state unequivocally that, we will continue to say these extra prayers as long as necessary. Second, how dare we even entertain the thought that it is a bother, an intrusion to our valuable time, for us here in America to pray to Our Father, Our King for compassion, for mercy, to bring an end to bloodshed, to  captivity, to all that is evil – to ALL of our People - when our brethren are suffering throughout Eretz Yisrael. If anything, we should double and triple the number of extra tefillos we say to our regularly mandated ones.   

Personally, I have been experiencing something strangely resembling   a condition referred to as ‘Survivor’s guilt’,  a response to an event in which someone else experiences loss. While the name implies this to be a response to the loss of life, it could also be the loss of property, health, identity, anything viewed as personally important. I assure you that I do not have a feeling of any such ‘guilt’. However, I am feeling something far more powerful.  I’ll try to explain…

Being far away from Israel leaves me with a level of feeling disconnected from what is going on in our Homeland, the Land which is the home given to us by God., I believe this feeling, this kind of ache from deep within, is a natural human condition. Baruch Hashem, my wife and I – as well as many members of our Shul -have a good number of relatives in living Israel, including  parents, siblings, children and many several first cousins and a plethora of next generation cousins, nieces, and nephews. My wife and I speak to our direct blood relatives on a constant basis. But it is the second and surely the third level of relatives with whom we also connect  during trying times. I called my first cousins who have several children and in-law children who were called up for the war, in addition  to our four nephews who were also called up. After detailing the whereabouts and challenges their families are going through, they ask me “…and how are you doing there?” At first, I didn’t have a good answer. How am I doing here in San Diego? Perhaps my cousins were just making small talk, or perhaps inquiring about the antisemitism flaring up throughout America.  Whatever the intent, I began to analyze the depth of the question they were asking. Perhaps the underlying question is how I am dealing with the fact that as much as I try to connect and feel the pain and anxiety of Jews in Israel, it remains elusive. The bottom line is, no matter how much Tzedakah one gives, no matter how many Tehillim one recites, no matter how many rallies someone attends, nothing can replace the feeling of being with the people who are affected… and potentially for me to be affected.

This is not meant to be a guilt trip or a push for making Aliyah (although maybe it should be). Rather, it is an observation on which we need to focus more deeply - simply because that’s the only thing we can do! This condition may be found in the Torah. Everything else is found in the Torah, so why not this?

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeira states in Bereishis 22:20-21 "ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויגד לאברהם לאמר, הנה ילדה מלכה גם היא בנים לנחור אחיך"  “After this, Avraham received a message: Milcah has also had children from your brother Nachor”. In 22:23 the Torah states "ובתואל ילד את רבקה שמנה אלה ילדה מלכה לנחור אחי אברהם"  “Besuel has had a daughter Rebecca, Milka bore the above eight sons to Avraham’s brother”. The Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 57:1 on this verse quotes Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei 14:30 "חיי בשרים לב מרפא" “A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh”. The Malbi”m explains that a troubled or distorted Heart  cannot function properly and will not allow the whole body to function smoothly and well; flesh and bones are only as healthy as the spirit they encase. The Midrash states that while Avraham was still on Mount Moriah, he was informed of the birth of the future wife of his son Yitzchok. This news reached him immediately after withdrawing the knife with which he was about to offer his son Yitzchok on the altar. The Torah in Bereishis 29:14 describes the relationship that Lavan sees of Yaakov as, “Yes, indeed, you are my own flesh and blood”, and this brings healing to the heart.” The news Avraham received of Rivka’s birth  injected critical new life into him after being broken from the test of the Akeidas Yitzchok.* If I had to guess, based upon this Midrash, Soroh did know Hashem’s command and allowed Avrohom to fulfill his Mitzva. Perhaps this was the defining moment, that which gave Avraham new life was the same lack of information that caused the broken heart of Soroh, ultimately causing her death. ** The pain, suffering and sorrow that Sorah endured was affected by her “being away” or being removed from “the unknown” which sometimes gives cause for a different kind of feeling than one experiences when he/she is actually ‘there’ – being in the fight, seeing and feeling it directly. We do know what is happening in Israel, but it is a different kind of knowing. It is a knowing that causes a keen awareness regarding the separation and distance from what is taking place. We may be able to sympathize but also not fully able to empathize. We hope and pray to reunite with all of Klal Yisroel,  and instead of trying to join in their sorrow, we will ultimately be physically united, celebrating our joys together, in person. This trying, emotional pull is not unique. Throughout the world, from Israel to America, throughout South America, Europe and Australia, we are experiencing the beauty of אחדות – Achdus: unity from a distance. May we all grasp the powerful meaning of unity, of being together with love, with focus, with oneness!

*A question I’ve always had that never received a quantitative answer is, did Soroh know that Avrahom was taking Yitzchok to be sacrificed?

** There are commentaries who explain Soroh passing away from a disbelief that Avrohom did NOT fulfill Hashem’s command to sacrifice Yitzchok, again realizing she knew exactly what was going on.

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784