Covering mouths. Discovering ears and eyes

Rabbi David Wolpe tells the story that Napoleon’s lieutenants once came running in to tell him, “The enemy appears to be camped right outside.” To which Napoleon calmly replied, “Get a bigger map.”

It’s time for us to adjust our coordinates. How might you reorient yourself this Rosh Hashana? Perhaps by making that which has been involuntary into that which feels purposeful. So much about this past Spring and Summer has been imposed upon us. How can lessons from prior seasons now be repurposed for the coming Fall and Winter?

In Sunday’s portion of Torah, Abraham and Isaac endure the most trying experience of their lives. The Binding of Isaac finds them speaking very little, watchfully walking together. Only after narrowly surviving trauma, do they renew covenantal dreams. On their way to their destination, Abraham lifts his eyes to recognize the mountaintop from a far (Gen. 22:4). Let’s bring a bigger map to consider how lessons from their trek may influence the vast geography contained inside our inner lives.

First, an interesting consequence of COVID-safe masks: covering our mouths can help us discover our ears. Less talking and more listening is what the ram’s horn, revealed when Abraham next lifts his eyes, will come to school us in (Gen. 22:13). Listening is a vital lifeskill.  It reminds us that stillness is often where clarity can be born.

Seeing is also more possible when our mouths and noses are masked. Abraham’s other watchful occasion finds him lifting his eyes to help turn strangers into angels (Gen. 18:2). Perhaps we can discover in our walks and watchfulness that the people in front of us can be more than impediments to our progress. Deep and empathic listening may yet reveal them as people, not in our way, but rather as those who struggle alongside us for a better way.

Finally, in surviving the loses of lives and livelihoods we thus far have managed to do, may we renew our dreams. In so doing, may we find plentiful paths opening before us in 5781.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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