A little bit of silence and a long walk

A piece of commentary from last week…

This week we read the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, I know, again.

Still, it may contain the most important long walk in the entire Torah, if not in our entire tradition.

God sends Abraham on a long walk to bind and, in Abraham’s mind, sacrifice Isaac. Here’s the text from Genesis, Chapter 22, just to refresh our memories:

Gen. 22:2 He said: Pray take your son, your only-one, whom you love, Yitzhak, and go-you-forth to the land of Moriyya/Seeing, and offer him up there as an offering-up upon one of the mountains that I will tell you of.

Gen. 22:3 Avraham started-early in the morning, he saddled his donkey, he took his two serving-lads with him and Yitzhak his son, he split wood for the offering-up and arose and went to the place that God had told him of.

Gen. 22:4 On the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

Rabbi David Kimchi remarked on this, nearly 700 years ago, that God could have asked Abraham to do this immediately. God doesn’t. God says go on a walk. Think about it, in Rabbi Kimchi’s words, so that he would have three days’ time to build insight for himself on the matter.

That seems pretty reasonable. Most of us take at least that long to make a decision of importance. From relationships, to large purchases, from job changes, to college applications – we spend a lot of time reflecting on what to do in those moments of our lives. The wisdom from the Torah here reminds us that we do well when we do this, especially if we give ourselves the time to take a walk.

On that walk we may find the moments to reflect and to listen. We have to listen to the quieter voices around us and within us. In the words of Hannah Senesh, “the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens,” – we are often too caught up in the noise of the everyday to even notice the thundering of the world beyond our walls.

Our prayers on Shabbat offer us moments to take an inner walk, to find our ways within. These moments of silence that we enter together every week, every time we offer t’fillah, can be that walk. They can be the time to travel deeper, to build upon our insights, to construct new frames of wisdom.

May the silence we find together allow us to walk towards a meaningful Shabbat.

Let us take a few longer moments of silence to deepen the walk into our selves.


A bit of Torah from Friday night, March 29

Counting and Prayer

Psalms 90:12 - “Teach us to count our days rightly...”
Rabbi Everett Gendler reads the verse to teach: “make our days count by saying yes to each one of them.”

The counting of these days between the Second Day of Passover and Shavuot, the counting of the Omer, helps us move from the celebration of freedom, to the recognition of the responsibility of freedom in the declaration of the Torah at Sinai.

Just as we have begun counting days this week, so also we moved from Winter to Summer in our Jewish calendar – prior to Passover we pray for rain, and this Shabbat will be the first one on which we pray for dew.

We are a pragmatic people. Our tradition demands that we do not extend ourselves in prayer for things that are unlikely, or impossible, to happen. So as the seasons change, so too our expectations shift appropriately.

When we pray, we come together for the sake of transforming our selves and each other. Perhaps the prayer for rain or dew reminds us that we should be shifting our concentration from the seasonal activities associated with life before and after Passover. What is different about winter and spring? What changes in our lives occur, and how can we live in greater understanding and acceptance of them, as well as in greater anticipation of them?

I offer that our prayers serve at least two purposes – the meditation that allows us to clarify our intentions and ideas as individuals, and the clarification that strengthens us as a community to pursue our values together. So the change from rain to dew moves us from a winter mindset of conserving our resources, to a summer approach of starting a season of planting and producing. We come together to find the inner strength to help us pursue the goals of the coming season, and gain support from a community of people united in principles that place our communal health and well-being as priorities.

The counting of the Omer helps us with this transition because it gives us a better sense of the days as they go by, giving us moments to pause and see where we are in the change between the seasonal priorities. Keeping track of the days, giving them themes and titles, allows us to slow the merciless march of time to perhaps a slightly more manageable pace, and insert seconds of mindfulness into our days.

May we find the awareness in our prayers to connect our inner resources with our communal values and strengths. May our Shabbat and our Counting give us the opportunities for insight that carry over into the rest of our days of the week.