Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hanukkah in Egypt

Standing on the parted shores of history
we still believe…

that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place, a promised land;
that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.

That there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands, marching
—from Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur

It has been a tough couple of weeks at my house.

First, on November 13th, four days after his eighth birthday, Samuel “Superman Sam” Sommer’s family, and the world, received the devastating news that his leukemia had returned, and that it is incurable. The little boy who inspired our Yom Kippur bone marrow donor drive, son of my friends and colleagues Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, is dying.

Then, early on November 17th, our cousin’s 20-year-old daughter was killed in a traffic accident. We heard this stunningly bad news on the 18th. As I write this, I am returning with Alec and our girls from Anna’s funeral in Illinois. Our hearts have broken. Just like every minute of every day, somewhere, someone’s hopes are destroyed, someone’s heart is broken.

If I weren’t already committed to an awareness of life’s uncertainty and fragility, and therefore to a life lived in faith, I would be now. The God I believe in neither causes car wrecks nor allows them to happen; my God does not determine who gets cancer and who survives. But I do believe, as a wise layperson once reminded me, that “God provides”; I would only add, “for those who have faith.” Call it God, the universe, or one’s own best judgment: whatever we feel is guiding our steps, we can only trust in it and walk bravely into the future—or risk paralysis by pain, fear, and doubt. Life is fragile, but resilient. It stubbornly persists wherever it can, though separated from death, its own destruction, by nothing more than a hair’s breadth. Somehow, Anna’s sister and her parents will go on. Sammy’s family will go on, and Sammy too, as far as he can. We all will.

With the gathering darkness heading into midwinter, we increase our Hanukkah lights each night. We acknowledge our reality, yet we neither despair nor surrender. We pray for miracles. In nature, light and life will return. It will catch us by surprise, and bless us.

Until then, the only thing any of us can do is to join hands, marching together, trusting that we will somehow get from here to our better place. Though it so often turns out not to be where, or what, we expected.

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