Jumping to Conclusions

I was disturbed this week to read in The Jewish Week about an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Purzansky)’s comparison of the Jewish Week to Der Strumer, the Nazi propaganda newspaper of the 1930s. I recognize that this rabbi was bothered by The Jewish Week mentioning that he shared the company of Rabbi Freundel, who was arrested and charged with voyeurism. Nevertheless, the fact that the preeminent Jewish paper in New York was compared to a paper which incited people against Jews was shocking. It took me back to my days at the University of Wisconsin, when I was by Capitol Hill seeing a protest of the Iraq War. One of the signs that I saw had a picture of President George W Bush on one side, an equals sign and then a picture of Adolf Hitler on the other.

Hyperbolic, sensationalist statements like this anger me because they show the short-sightedness of those who communicate them. Making an absurd comparison is a way to engender animosity, destroying relationships and completely misinforming the audience. The better approach is to step back and attempt to engage the other in dialogue, understanding his or her perspective. While people may want to see these statements (after all, they sell papers), they cause so much harm and unnecessary damage. I wonder what would have happened if Rabbi Purzansky had taken a moment of introspection, realizing that The Jewish Week was not trying to link him to Rabbi Freundel. Maybe he would have called the editor and had a lengthy conversation that would have led to the editor publishing that no such connection was intended. The outcome would have been the same without the irreparable damage that it caused.

Going Forth in Love

When I think about marriage, I think about all the changes it brings. Two individuals join together to become one new whole. There is so much newness that results from this situation: a new name, a new home, a new status both socially and on one’s tax returns. So much excitement yet also some uncertainty as to what the future will bring.

An enormous, completely life-changing journey is at the heart of  this week’s Torah portion, as in the first line, God tells Avram and Sarai לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך  “You go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  Why would this couple choose to make such a journey, leaving the land, people and way of life familiar to them to venture into the unknown?  Why would anybody do this?  The medieval commentator Rashi said that the purpose of Avram going on this journey is ולטובתך להנאתך, “for his betterment and his own good,” as God will make him the father of a great nation in this new land.  In accordance with Rashi, I see Avram’s faith and trust in God’s word as enabling him to have this life-changing, beneficial journey.

Rashi’s view is expanded upon by the Slonimer Hasidic rabbi Shalom Noach Barozovsky in his recent book Netivot ShalomNetivot Shalom references Isaac Luria, who stated that each person has a unique destiny to follow.  For Luria, everyone’s life conditions are different because each of us has work specifically set aside for us to do.    Netivot Shalom expands on this by stating that we cannot be another, only ourselves, and we must use our full self to develop spiritually and engage in תקון עולם, repairing the world.  In progressing on our life journeys, we, like Avram and Sarai, are striving to fulfill what we are sent out to accomplish.

What a beautiful concept: that each of us, like Avram and Sarai, has a personal path to follow that will lead us to our destination.   We are challenged like Avram and Sarai to and continue working towards a better future. Avram and Sarai’s dilemma in this parsha is our dilemma today: to have faith and trust in God as we continue to meet life’s challenges.  This is extremely difficult to do because we have no idea where the next step of the journey will lead us, and this requires us to continually make choices.

This concept ties directly into an auf ruf, the celebration of an upcoming marriage. Marriage is such a beautiful thing-two individuals becoming one household and pledging loyalty, commitment and love to each other. At the same time, marriage is an example of lekh lecha, of entering into new territory which one has not previously explored. Especially in a first marriage, neither party of the couple is sure what the future will bring. However, what both members of the couple have is faith in working together towards a strong future, the same faith that Avram and Sarai had when beginning their journey.

I use this teaching in celebration of your coming marriage because I know you will have the same success in setting out on your life journey that Avram and Sarai did. You will be there for one another at all moments in life, bringing goodness and blessing into everything you do. While you do not know where the future will lead you, by being at each other’s side, you will achieve great things. May your marriage next week bring you everything you have ever hoped for and dreamed about as you walk through life together. May you go forth in love and devotion to one another and may all your deeds be blessed. Shabbat Shalom.