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Jewish Journal

A Way To Faith – Rabbi Barry Gelman

by Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 21, 2011 | 2:18 pm

This is the sermon I delivered this past Shabbat (Erev Purim) in my Shul in Houston. Although Purim has passed, I think that the message of the sermon is still reevennt and I hope that it can offer a way to faith for those who struggle with faith while facing difficult circumstances.

A Way To Faith

I am finding it particularly difficult to get into the Purim spirit this year. Like many of you, my thoughts this week have been consumed by the reports and the images of the brutal murder by Palestinian terrorists of the 5 members of the Fogel family in Itamar, Israel as well as by the death of 10’s of thousands of people brought on by the earthquake and Tsunamis that rocked and flooded Japan.

If I may relate my personal state of mind, each of these tragedies has affected me differently. The Japan tragedy is a terrible human tragedy, not to be considered as 10’s of thousands, but as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers – families – just like ours – shattered – never to be the same. That tragedy, savagely created by nature, forces us to confront difficult questions about God and the natural order.

The brutal murders in Itamar conjures up different challenges. That was not just a murder of a family – it was the murder of our family. Here, for most of us, we are talking about 2 or 3 degrees of separation. Of course, this type of despicable deed raises questions, not about faith in God, but about faith in humanity.

I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Yehuda Amital in an interview he gave to Yad Vashem where he commented on having faith after the Holocaust. In referencing a conversation with Abba Kovner a leader of the Vilna Ghetto revolt, and a kibbutz leader and poet in Israel, Rabbi Amital recalls: “Once we were both participants in a TV panel about the meaning of the Holocaust. He asked me, “Did you have problems with your faith?” I answered him, “I had problems? Your problems are even more serious. I believed in God; now, I don’t understand His ways. But you believed in man; now, do you continue to believe in man, after what you saw in the Holocaust? Truly, we both have a problem.”
[1]

I would like to suggest a way into Purim in light of the recent events. I believe that this approach is important not just for this year, but that it also offers a way to faith that may be helpful.

I will start with a basic question on Purim.

Why do we not recite Hallel on Purim? This question is asked in the Talmud in tractate Megilla and 3 answers are given. For our purposes, I wish to focus on the third answer. According to the Gemara, we do not say Hallel on Purim because even after the great salvation and military victory, we are still “servants of Achashveirosh.”

What the Talmud is trying to get across here is that Purim does not reflect a total victory or salvation. Despite the fact that we declare “Layehudim Hayta Ora…”, there was still much leftover darkness once all the dust settled.

If that is the case, then we must ask ourselves another question. Why celebrate? What is the purpose of celebration if the same sword that dangled over our necks before the Purim saga unfolded, continues to dangle there.

Here the words of Rabbi Zadok HaKoheinm of Lublin are helpful.

Say’s Rav Tzadok[2] – Pesach represents total salvation – we left Egypt and we went and received the Torah. Pesach represents leaving the darkness of exile.

Purim on the other hand, with the left over danger and darkness, represents the ability to cope with remaining in the darkness. That too is a gift from God.[3]

This will be my approach to Purim this year. The murders in Itamar especially, remind us that there are still great challenges and that there is great hatred among our enemies. The murders remind us that even with the establishment of the State of Israel, there is still much darkness to overcome.

But I will also recall this Purim that the Fogel family in Itamar and all those suffering in Japan, have the ability to cope with the darkness and to build new lives on the ruins.

I will also remember that despite the human evil displayed in Itamar and in the Palestinian street as they celebrated the murders, that there are many many good people in our world.

There are 50 or so firefighters who are facing certain death as they try to contain the fires and radiation leaks at the Japanese nuclear power plants.

I will remember the amazing story of Rami Levy, owner of a chain of supermarkets in Israel. If you have not heard the story, it is worth hearing.

According to a number of Israeli news outlets, Rami Levy has gone to the Fogel’s house every day of the Shiva and fills up their refrigerator and cupboard with food.

Someone at the house noticed and expressed their appreciation to him for doing this. He responded that they will be seeing him for a while as he plans to supply them with food and supplies every week until the youngest orphan turn 18.

Who among us does not live with some darkness?

Who among us has not woken up in the morning wondering how to go on living?

This is part of life, but, yet, somehow we manage to cope – and sometimes even thrive under difficult conditions.

That ability, that great power is worth celebrating for it too is a gift from God.

“Even a Holiday that does not merit Hallel, remains worthy of celebration. It behooves us to remember this, because instances of complete salvation are few and far between. We must take joy and show gratitude for the ability to make it through the difficult times, even when our problems do not depart entirely.”[4]

I conclude with a teffilla

Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael…

As for our brothers of the whole house of Israel who are in distress or captivity, on sea or land, may the All-Present have compassion on them and lead them from distress to relief, fro darkness to light, and from oppression to freedom, now, swiftly and soon – and let us say: Amen

[1] http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/sichot71/12-71vayechi-asara.htm

[2] Divrei Soferim 32

[3] Cited in Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine – Yitzchak Blau, pg. 41

[4] Ibid

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Our Orthodox Rabbis and an Orthodox Maharat writing about how they see Judaism, Israel, the Jewish People and our world.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner is the Rabbi of Bais Abraham...

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