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Laura Hausman

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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - October 2017
From the Rabbi - October 2017 PDF Print E-mail

In the Talmud we are told that when we die and go to heaven, and are to be judged, we will be asked a series of questions about how we lived our lives. But why wait till we die to ask these important questions?  Why wait till we are no longer able to change anything to consider how we live our lives and how we might face our ultimate judgement?  

Three of these questions are particularly interesting to consider while we have the time to do so. Nasata v’natata be-emunah? — Did you deal with people honestly? This is often translated as “Did you deal honestly in business?” which might seem like an odd question to open with as you stand before G-d in judgement! But it really means “did you deal honestly, in a way that is trustworthy and with integrity in your daily dealings.” Not just the business of business but the mundane business of life, how you deal with others in the daily interactions of a regular day rather than in the grand gestures of a special occasion.   Integrity is often described as “what you do when no one is watching.” But here it may be better understood as how you act regardless of who is watching: whether you like a person or you don’t, whether you know them or you don’t, whether you will benefit or not, or even if it will disadvantage you.

Tzipita lishuah? — Did you hope for salvation? But being honest with yourself isn’t always enough.   Having integrity often means realizing that you will not always get the results you want, that things will not always turn out your way even if you did the right thing in the right way.   And so we are asked whether we hoped for salvation.  Hoping for salvation is pretty standard in religious life. But in Judaism the question is not about achieving a personal place in heaven but about bringing about a better world and working diligently towards that goal.   And the essential point here is hope.  In a world that often seems so hopeless our tradition asks us if we made sure to maintain hope. Despite generations of persecution and oppression we have maintained hope.  Despite all that has befallen us in our history we have always looked towards a better future believing that hope would eventually win out.  Indeed the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, means “the Hope” reflecting the fact that despite years of exile in which the idea of a national homeland was only a distant idea, eventually because that hope was kept alive, it became a reality.  

Havanta davar mitoch davar? — Did you understand one thing from another? This is a seemingly simple question but one that may be the ultimate question in many ways.   This question is really about our priorities in life. Did we spend our time understanding the difference between what was important and what wasn’t what was significant and what was petty, what made a difference to the world and what was merely self-serving?  We all recently experienced an event that put our priorities into perspective – Hurricane Harvey.  Facing the might and sheer power of nature, and seeing the devastation left in its wake, a lot of what we think is important comes into perspective.  When we think of what we experienced and what people whose homes were destroyed and livelihoods wiped out it focuses us on what truly matters in life in a way that our normal comfortable existence obscures.  How much of what seemed so important the day before, that we spent so much time and energy on before, seemed irrelevant and petty in the face of the hurricane?

On Yom Kippur each year we are faced with a similar idea.  Here we stand “trembling and afraid” awed by the sheer power of the day.  We are reminded on this day to distinguish one thing from another, to put our priorities in order and to go forward in life with both integrity and hope.   

        Rabbi Ilan Emanuel



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