From ‘What’s the matter?’ to ‘What matters’

We look to electoral candidates in Israel and America to tell us ‘What’s the matter?’  We look to our sacred texts to remind us of ‘What matters.’  Faith and family feel primary.

Many years ago Elie Wiesel was part of a religious dialogue at the University of Tulsa.  A Pastor asked about his loss of faith in Auschwitz.  “Oh, I didn’t lose my faith there” Wiesel interjected.

Professor Henry Knight recalls what happened next.  The Pastor pressed him about the searing words he had written.  “But you said, ‘Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed…’”  Wiesel explained that such words were written in faith to capture the crisis of faith he was experiencing – not the loss of it.

In two weeks at the Seder we will all ask ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’  Wiesel upended that question with his own definition of night.  A faith that matters may be tested.  More than simply inherited, precious faith should be earned.

Faith often originates in the family setting.  In this week’s special pre-Passover Torah passage, the word bayit, meaning ‘house’ recurs eight times.  The meal where our ancestors in Egypt at the Pascal Offering is delineated from house to house. Bloody doorposts separate life from death in the midst the 10th plague.  Also, the opening subject of our weekly portion of Torah – childbirth – is associated with blood flow .  Dr. Jerome Groopman recently wrote about strong emotional associations with blood. “Our blood “boils” when we’re angry, “chills” when we’re afraid, [and] “curdles” when we’re threatened.”  Blood indicates intensity.  There is nothing superficial about it.  As a life-source, perhaps it symbolizes that which deeply matters.

As we enter the Hebrew month of Nissan in preparation for Passover, may our biblical Prophets prove to be as audible as our political pundits.  And may our faith, our family, and our memories of meaningful moments, help to bring us back to the heart of the matter.

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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