Chayei Sarah - 5779: “Elevate-and Alleviate"
Updated: Nov 19, 2018
Dear Friends, As many of you know, I have spent the past week riding a bicycle with about 300 other people through some of the most inspiring routes in the world: From the soul searing Dead Sea and surrounding hills and desert, to the majestic Judean Hills up and through a triumphant final “march” into Jerusalem. Yesterday, on the particularly harrowing climb to Jerusalem (at the end of five days of muscle torture), I found myself voicing this simple question out loud to one of my new-found friends as I was literally huffing and puffing up the hill (yes, much more training is in my future!):
I understand we are participating in this wonderful charity and tzedaka opportunity to help the children of ALYN hospital who need our help desperately. And for that reason, we raised lots of money donated by our generous and caring sponsors. But what does all that have to do with riding? Why does my huffing, puffing, “krechtzing” and wheezing up a hill near Arad in Israel’s desert in a windstorm help a child who really is just asking for my financial assistance? So ALYN needs money? Raise money! How does the riders’ engagement in a sport like cycling or running relate to or connect to the underlying cause-charity for the kids? Do the kids care whether I could or cannot make a 50 kilometer uphill ride to Jerusalem? Does it make a difference to them when my muscles go beyond their natural ability (not much) to push towards that finish line? Why not just raise money the old fashioned way? These are my thoughts as I shared them with Simon of Jerusalem on the way up yesterday.
As always, thinking about the Parasha never fails to provide inspiration, and an answer to my problem with “pshat” in why we ride is revealed in this week’s Torah portion-and I share:
In our parasha we see that Abraham commands Eliezer to seek a wife for his son Isaac from his relatives in Aram Naharayim-the City of Nachor-his “Aramean” family, and avoid the local Canaanites as a “Shidduch” for Yitzchak. Yes, as commentators share, the Cannanites in Avraham’s neighborhood were a corrupt people, with a typical character way less refined or civilized than the Aramean cousins. They had “Bad Middos”, as is used in Rabbinic parlance. Marrying into the family Avraham’s own family would ensure a spouse of more refined character.
All that is fine and dandy however, until one reads the Hagada. Laban, the son of Besuel, Abraham’s counterpart in Nachor and the Rebecca’s brother, is depicted as the literal progenitor of our enemies-the beginner of all of our troubles, the one who “sought to uproot everything”. He is deemed a “Rasha”, the personification of evil in all of our writings. Are these the kind of “refined” people that we were so much better off with as marriage partners? Devoted leaders of an idol worshipping society ?
However, there is one thing that Besuel, Lavan, and the “Aramean gang” had that the Cannanites didn’t have. A dedicated passion for faith and belief. Our Relatives in Aram may not have had great “character”, but they had “Emuna”. They believed in a god. Their life contained room for belief in a true higher power. Emunah of some sort was part of their existence. They may have had idols, but they even shared a recognition of the g-d of Abraham. This was evident though it the conversations throughout our Parasha. They had connection to what is real. To truth. They at least had the capacity to ultimately reach truth. In other words, they had the raw stuff with which a great people with a world vision can be created. They may have been rotten connivers , “refined swindlers” of the highest order, but their innate capacity for “Emunah”, for trust and belief in a higher reality, their ability to reach the “emes”-the truth, if properly cultivated, was worth pursuing, connecting to, and building a legacy with.
In other words, Abraham’s idea was: “maybe my relatives believe in the wrong things, and are wholly misguided in their path, and embrace the “wrong truth”. But I can take that passion for the truth, I can grab onto that desire to seek clarity, and I can ELEVATE IT. So long as they are people of faith and truth of any kind, there is hope that in the future, that desire for truth, that inherent representation of a Neshama and soul that desires to connect to its creator will be able to be cultivated, developed and ELEVATED to the sincerest of faiths. I’d rather take my chance with a people that have PASSION for godliness of any kind-for that is the raw material that is necessary for the future development of a nation that one day will be charged with elevating the entire world.
And so it is with charity, with tzedaka. With the ALYN ride and so many other charities that do this. Yes, we can all “just give money”. But tzedakka done the right way needs to be done with passion, with excitement, with dedication to the cause. Its power is not just the dollars but the passion behind those dollars. What these “rides” do I believe, are allowing us riders to ELEVATE our passion for a sport, for an activity, so that it becomes much more. Takes on a higher purpose. Like Abraham who identifies a level of Emuna and belief in His idol-worshipping relatives and seeks to elevate that, we all identify our shared passion for cycling, enjoyment and appreciation of Hashem’s beautiful world and the health That HaShem gave us, and we seek to raise it up to a higher level, to elevate it to new heights translated into love and care for those less fortunate and needing of our help.
Writing this from the hills of Yerushalayim with blessings for a beautiful Shabbat, I also bless all of you that you merit to not only find positive passion and excitement in your lives, but that you transform and elevate your passions to the highest levels, so that you not only reach the “top” in your life, but that you take the whole world with you!
On a final note as Shabbos enters Yerushalayim, I am also painfully remembering the horrific events of last Shabbos in Pittsburgh, and I am energized to see how many Jews across America and the world, in addition to physically helping the affected families, are also rededicating their passion for Shabbat, in increased observance of and participation in Shabbat. Indeed, Our Shul on the Beach has joined with Jews, Synagogues, communites and people of all kinds in the SHOW UP FOR SHABBAT campaign as part of a global -SOLIDARITY SHABBAT initiative-please join with us as we share this special Shabbat in solidarity and connection with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh and worldwide. All Shabbat events and schedule are posted on our website at www.shulonthebeach.com
With Love and Resepct,
Shabbat Shalom~A Gutte Shabbos to All!