Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
As the Elul moon waxes and the peak of our religious year nears, we each begin asking ourselves our “big questions”. This Elul, the big question that’s rattling me is “what, in the end, is our goal?”
We, who put on tefillin every morning (if we are men), and maintain separate sponges and towels for milchig and fleishig, we who tear toilet paper before Shabbat and don’t touch our spouses 12 days out of each month, what, in the end, is our goal? What is that we really want?
Do we want our children to don tefillin, maintain kosher homes and observe Shabbat as we do? Well, yes, this is something we want. But is this our goal? In the end, is the simple perpetuation of religious activity the sum total of what we are striving for? Or is it just the means? And if so, the means toward what?
Along similar lines: we, who daily pray for, worry about, and support Israel, we who send our children to study and to serve there, what, in the end, is our hope? What is that we really want?
Do we want the State of Israel to be physically secure and materially prosperous? Well, yes. But is this it? Are these the totality of our goals?
We are well-practiced in, and passionate about, the sacred activities of our Orthodox and Zionist lives. Yet as my Orthodox and Zionist life goes on, I suspect more and more deeply that the satisfactory fulfillment of these sacred activities does not constitute the goal at all, rather an elaborate set of means. And the big question that is jumping out at me from every corner this Elul is what then, is the goal?
There are surely many possible responses to this question, and please feel welcome to add yours to this discussion! As for myself, I am thinking about the following two statements, the first by the prophet Yishayahu, the second from our Sages. They strike me as articulations of ultimate Jewish goals.
“In the days to come… the many nations shall come and say, ‘let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths’, and instruction will come forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem”
“Our rabbis have taught: We support the non-Jewish poor with the poor of Israel, visit their sick with the sick of Israel, eulogize their dead, and comfort their mourners, in the interest of the ways of peace.”
Worthy goals for us to place in our sights, for the short and long term. My own challenge for this Elul is to better understand how our various sacred means lead us to them.
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August 7, 2012 | 12:08 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) offers many grim images as it recounts the destruction of Jerusalem, and the slaughter and exiling of its population. Surely one of the most gruesome is that of parents so racked with hunger that they resort to cooking their own children. It’s an unfathomable idea, one so depraved that we struggle to imagine it.
And yet. And yet it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we are all cooking our children. If not our children, then our grandchildren. Or perhaps it will be our great-grandchildren. But the time seems to be coming closer and closer when the temperature on this earth which God created for us will be too high for life as we know it to continue. We are, slowly, cooking our children.
According to Halacha, we must not wait until we are absolutely certain that someone’s life is in danger before we intervene. In the presence of even the possibility that life is in danger, we are mandated to violate Shabbat, Yom Kippur, or virtually any of the commandments, in order to preserve and maintain life. This is because life is the central value, and we are prohibited to stand idly by when it is endangered. And we are our bothers’ keepers. And our children’s and grandchildren’s keepers.
I think we need to start being scared. And to think about the world our loved ones, the fruit of our loins and of our wombs, the children whom we hug and the grandchildren whom we kiss, will inhabit. And even as we always place our faith in the compassionate and beneficent God, we simultaneously need to remember what God said to Adam and Eve when He placed them in the garden (Kohellet Rabah, 7) “Be mindful then to not ruin and destroy My world, for if you ruin it, there is no one after you to repair it.”
I ride my bike a lot, and my wife and I are installing solar panels on our roof. But this won’t save anyone’s children. Only unprecedented cooperation among God’s nations will. Only the broad willingness to endure hardship today so that our children may live tomorrow will. Only heroic and noble leadership on the part of this, the most powerful and blessed nation in the world will.
Along with the faith that we are not cooked yet.