CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 6
Voices of Torah (Continued from page 5)
And you shall be a blessing... (Genesis 12:2). Blessings are serious business. We bestow
blessings constantly, but what do we actually transmit to those we bless?
The Lord had blessed Abraham in all
things (Genesis 24:1).
According to Tanchuma, Lech L’cha 4, God grants Abraham the power of blessing, but when
he realizes that Isaac will sire both Jacob and Esau—one who will be righteous and one who will
not—Abraham balks. Why? Apparently the midrash believes that blessings are substantive and
can be misplaced or misused. When do you feel that a blessing is warranted, and when not?
On its face, this verse has two possible
interpretations: either Abraham was
blessed with all the things he wanted, or all
his endeavors were blessed with success.
Yet both seem impossible. The difficulty
is the word “all.” Rabbi Bradley Shavit
Artson suggests the blessing is not in what
Abraham did or owned, but rather that at
the end of his life he could look back over
all of his life and feel blessed.
The Zohar 78a cites Rabbi Shimon’s teaching that blessing begins on the right side with Chesed,
moves to the left side adding G’vurah, and becomes a blessing as it merges into the middle with
Tiferet. Blessing, then, represents the balance point of compassion and strength in appropriate
measures. How do we achieve that balance in ourselves? How can we transmit it?
The Zohar 79a suggests that blessings create a bond between the giver and the receiver of the
blessing: “For whoever leads another to virtue is credited with that virtue, which never departs
from him.” In what way do our actions—words or touch or embrace or recognition—move the
person we bless? How do our actions lead another toward virtue?
The Zohar 86a reminds us that “arousal above depends on arousal below.” Recall the most
powerful blessing you have received. In what way did that blessing below stir powers above?
You bear the power and the responsibility to bless others. May you always stir the powers above
and below toward shalom.
The idealization of Jewish family life sets standards that are sometimes difficult to achieve. It is,
therefore, perhaps comforting to read of the trials and tribulations of Abraham and Sarah. It is
also good to know that, unlike in certain other religious traditions, our founding ancestors don’t
have to be perfect.
As if it were not difficult enough for the two of them to be childless after God had promised
Abraham that he and his seed would possess the land of Canaan, they then must come to terms
with Hagar giving birth to Abram’s first child.
We are told that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram (Genesis
16:16). Sarah is not mentioned, and Ishmael will live as part of the family for no less than fourteen
long years before Isaac is born.
And then there is the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael at Sarah’s behest. Abraham is silent. All we
are told is that the matter distressed Abraham greatly (Genesis 21:11). Did he share his pain with
his wife of so many years, or did he keep it to himself?
Perhaps Sarah suspected that her husband was really in love with Hagar. After all, when Sarah
dies, we are told that Abraham took Keturah as his wife, whom Midrash Rabbah (Genesis 61:4)
tells us was none other than Hagar!
And then there is the Akeidah. How can Abraham take Sarah’s only child to offer him up as a
sacrifice on Mount Moriah without even sharing his moral and religious predicament with his wife?
He leaves without even saying goodbye, and she will never see him or Isaac again.
There are so many unanswered questions about a dysfunctional family at the very outset of the
history of our people.
Certainly, Abraham was not blessed
with an easy life. His life was filled with
challenges, losses, and heartrending
decisions. We know that every life
includes moments of joy and triumph, and
times of despair and failure. A blessed life
is not one of unalloyed joy without a hint of
pain or loss. It entails the ability to accept
what has happened and move on, treating
our setbacks as learning experiences and
opportunities for growth.
Like Abraham, we must not allow our
negative experiences to paralyze us. To live
fully, we must risk failure. To love, we must
risk loss. Like Abraham, we must accept
our humanness, including the pain and
loss that come with it.
Artson writes, “Only by embracing the
totality of life’s experiences can we truly
live. By allowing ourselves to dwell in the
suffering and the ecstasy, to embrace the
disappointment and the hurt along with the
delight, we can experience the joy of being
alive, the holiness of being itself” (The
Everyday Torah, pp. 34–35).
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 8
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 9
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 10
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 11
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 12