When my student Adam confronted me recently with this question "In a post-Freudian world, how can we trust the honesty of our intentions?" my response was, "Our conscious and subconscious can be likened to matzah and chametz."
Our teachers come in many forms and shapes. Many of mine have, over the years, appeared somewhat similar both in regard to gender andprofession. The ones that never cease to surprise me, demanding of me to think beyond myself, are my younger students. Clearly, the younger -- the better.
There are many questions that I want to ask God face to face. Some clustered in theology, others in theodicy. Some have to do with His/Her sense of humor (often biting and dry, although quite creative). Some question evil, pain and suffering. At times I simply want to check in to make sure that at the end of the day God is doing OK. Then there are those moments when I want to squint my eyes in dismay and ask, “What exactly were you thinking when you said...?”
Often, when sitting with my students, I find myself asking them, "What do you want?" and then "What do you need?" The answer to both these questions inevitably is not the same. I have learned this the hard way, like many other lessons. While I may have wanted something from someone, when I was honest with myself I realized it was not necessarily what I needed. Or perhaps not that I needed at that exact moment.
"Yonah has a question and I thought that you would have the answer." This was the father's sentence that broke the silence of my learning in the empty beit midrash in Jerusalem some five summers ago.
Rabbi Elie Spitz wrote a wonderful book, titled "Does the Soul Survive?," dealing with life after death, but for me this title is the question that I continuously ask in regard to life after birth.
One of my students once asked me what was the greatest gift that my teacher Reb Shlomo Carlebach gave me. My reply was immediate: "He gave me a new pair of eyes."
The Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (1730-1797), teaches in Parshat Vayera, which we read three weeks ago, that the Torah is a blueprint for each and every one of us. There is an Avraham within us -- the part of us that pleads in front of God, fighting the existence of evil. There is the Sarah within us -- the part of us that has to make painful decisions on behalf of a greater good in the future. Our self-doubt is Amalek, our self-sacrificing voice is Rachel.
There are stories that one needs to hear many times in order to remember them, in order to file them in a manner that they can be retrieved when needed.