Archive for : Rabbi Will

Rabbi Will: If you live, you grieve

“If you live you grieve.”

A friend died of cancer a couple nights ago. The funeral was today. Merrily was a woman who didn’t pull punches and saw the essence of things. She didn’t just show up when you called her. She was there. An artist by training who had seen too much suffering — her daughter died a few years back leaving two young children and a huge void. Merrily lived the beauty and pain of life. She understood that in some pain there may be beauty, but we need not seek beauty in suffering. There is only suffering and our response to it. Her response was to look outward. Maybe compassion is the milk of disease.
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Rabbi Will: There’s too much to do to be bored

When Sarah was a freshman I told her I thought she was bored; that the towers of the university were too narrow for her. That was before she traveled to New Orleans to do Katrina relief; before the following spring when she organized her peers to work on the California/Mexico border; before she decided to join Teach For America, and before she organized a service trip – was it to Central America? – with her inner-city high school students. She is certainly not bored anymore. She tells me there is too much work to do.

According to Jewish tradition, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Our mystics believe every soul born into this world represents something new and unique. We each have distinct gifts that we are called to direct toward repairing our world. It is our job as Jews to discern where the intersection between the world’s great needs and our individual talent’s rest, and to dedicate and rededicate our lives to that work — be it the work of easing suffering, improving literacy or welcoming the stranger. Indeed, the mystics go on to say, it is precisely because this is not done that the world is yet to be redeemed. As if to drive the point home, a first century sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, “If you happen to be planting a tree and someone says the Messiah has arrived, you should finish planting the tree and then go out to greet the Messiah.”
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Rabbi Will: Temporarily sheltered

There was a creak and a shutter — what walls there were leaned and flapped. My son cried out in his sleep next to me and I pulled him closer against the cold. Somewhere in the distance people were shouting and laughing. A car sped by. And then sirens. Later there was just a huge silence. No wind. Only occasional noises in the street. Stars shone clearly through the branches overhead and I realized I had never heard the city settle into silence. On this night it was beautiful. It was temporary. We could always go in the house.

On Sukkot we are told to leave the comfort of our sturdy homes with their strong walls, insulated windows and security systems and we are directed to live in an impermanent shelter – where the walls may shake in the slightest breeze and roof is made of leaves and twigs and not shingles and tar paper. Where sleeping in the sukkah we can hear the voices or silences on the street late at night. Where we invite friends, strangers and even our ancient ancestors to share a meal at our table in this unstable, ephemeral dwelling place. What Yom Kippur is to our spiritual lives, Sukkot is to our physical being. We are made to feel the fragility of being human — the chill, the warmth, the exposure. And to celebrate it. If we are fortunate it is only temporary.
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Rabbi Will: My Unusual Entry into Repairing the World

It was a Catholic priest who found me. And it was in Kingston and not Jerusalem. Despite a “Jewish education,” I would have never given Judaism a second look were it not for Father Gregg and my experience in Jamaica. It was my senior year in college on a service trip. And this was the first time anyone challenged me to take life—to take religion seriously.
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