Friday, November 07, 2008

To Every Thing There is a Season

As King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes (and as immortalized in folk song), "To everything there is a season... a time for war and a time for peace" (3:1,8). More than just words, it is life, and everyday we are put to the test. We all need some bad times in our lives. it builds and strengthens our character, and teaches us to be thankful for our many blessings. All the best writers and philosophers, have suffered from adversity, at some point in their lives.

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"Que sera, sera – whatever will be will be – is a very popular philosophy. It has its equivalents in Judaism. In fact even stronger versions: gam zu letovah, was Rabbi Akiva’s favourite dictum, when anything bad befell him – this too is for the good. Or in another phrase kol d’avid rachmanah letav avid – Everything that the All-Merciful does, is done for the best.

"Take note that ‘Que sera sera’ doesn’t say what will be will be for the best - it just will be and we have to accept it at that. It’s acceptance without regrets".

"Now, having complete trust in the Creator come what may is a strong religious virtue. There’s a time for everything under the sun says Kohelet in our Haftarah for Succot: "A time to be born, a time to die, a time for war, a time for peace…" The Succah also represents the duality of life: it’s frailty and vulnerability open to the elements; and it’s celebration of the good harvest of life.

"Kohelet says; to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. Everything is there for a purpose; ‘beshert’ as we say – beshert means decreed".

"There was a Rabbi Yosi who took this view of marriage. He asked what has the Creator been doing since the 6 days of Creation? Answer: matching up couples for marriage".

"Are marriages made in heaven? My answer is, if you want to believe that, well, you may believe that they are made in heaven – but they have to be maintained in the here and now by two down-to-earth-people with their feet firmly on the ground".

"There’s a lovely old-fashioned term for this belief that we can leave everything to the Almighty to take care of. It’s called Quietism.

"Jewish Quietism – sounds like a contradiction in terms. Quietists are people who believe in leaving everything to God to sort out. We shouldn’t interfere".

"I want to suggest we question Quietism.

"Modern Judaism, not only Reform, takes the view that, although much is not in our hands, free will is given to us. We take responsibility for our actions, we strive for a better world, we try to influence things for good".

"Indeed the same Rabbi Akiva who said ‘everything is for the good’ says: "Everything is known to God, yet free will is given to man." God knows what we will do and how things will work out, but it is still up to us, to arrange our own lives".

"Isn’t this a bit of a puzzle? Let’s just take a peep at how the Talmud deals with this issue. [B. Berachot 60a, b].

"There’s a rule: If you hear good news, there’s a berachah to say. For bad news, there’s also a berachah to say. For good news – Baruch… Hatov vehamaitiv we praise the One who does good and makes good. Over bad news Baruch Dayan ha'emet – Blessed be the true Judge. And it goes on to say: a person has to make a blessing over bad news as well as over good news. Chayav adam levareich al hara keshem shemevareich al tovah".

"What does that mean ? The Talmud answers it with a little story:
Rabbi Akiva was once on a journey. He came to a town and he wanted a room. Everyone refused to give him a room. Quite the opposite of the Succot message of hospitality!

"And what did Akiva say? Gam zu letovah. This too is for good.
So off goes Rabbi Akiva with his three prized possessions: a cockerel, an ass and a lamp. During the night, the wind came and blew out the lamp. A fox came and ate the cock. A lion came and ate the ass. So he wakes up and there is nothing there. Rabbi Akiva says: Gam zu letovah. This also is for good".

"When he comes back into the town the next morning, Akiva discovers that some bandits had entered the town and taken all the inhabitants away captive.

"So Rabbi Akivah says: you see! "Wasn't I right to say gam zu letovah? All this is for the good. If I had got a room in the town, I would have been taken captive. If the light had been burning, they’d have caught me. If the cock had been there it would have crowed it would have given me away. If the ass had been there, it would have brayed and they would have known I was there. So, obviously, whatever the Almighty does is for good".

"That’s the story". © Reuven Silverman 22.10.05

We pray, now as always, for an end to all wars, and that a just and lasting peace will ensue.

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