In honor of National Adoption Day, I looked through the batch of photos depicting my daughter and myself in the courtroom on the day her adoption was finalized. She’s tucked in my arms, fingers wrapped around the judge’s gavel. I remember the feeling of awe and astonishment that we were moving into the next step of our family dream. I notice the judge looks delighted in one of the pictures — perhaps by her decision to affirm another family; maybe because of the delicious nature of my child. Likely, a bit of both. Mostly, as I take in the images of the photos of that auspicious day, I notice the placement of powerful words over our heads — In God We Trust.
The official motto of the United States feels appropriate in this photo. Hanging there like a banner, it is as if the court was affirming the kavannah — spiritual intention — that underpinned my quest to become a mother. In hindsight, it was the internal behavior I cultivated the most as I walked the path towards motherhood.
In his book, Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis writes, Bitachon (trust) gives us the capacity to act from a place of no fear. A heart cannot hold both fear and trust at the same time. When we cultivate trust, we inevitably loosen the grip fear holds on our heart (Everyday Holiness, p. 216).
Looking again at the photos, I recall the mundane from that day in the courtroom, the fear that the court proceedings would extend beyond the money in the parking meter. Then I project myself back in time, stand behind the desk, my daughter in my arms, and breathe in the love that permeated those moments. Trust transformed nerves and anxiety. Love trumped fear.
The path was not always so clear, and the weight of my reference to hindsight cannot be underestimated. To trust deeply, with whole, pure intention, one must practice. Bitachon suggests surety. While some lean towards trust more easily than others, in my experience, deep trust — without foolishness — takes time to unearth.
Perhaps this is what we might learn from Abraham in parashat Vayera as he takes his beloved son to offer him as an olah — a burnt offering — to raise up his soul to God. Each time I revisit the text, I am startled by the silence. Sarah had plenty to say when she banished Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s home. Here, we hear nothing. And, the ram. Why does it not thrash or cry out from the thicket? Not all silence is debilitating. Rabbi David Wolpe suggests, What matters is the right relationship between words and wordlessness, the wordlessness in which much more happens than in all the words one can string together (In Speech and in Silence, p.90).
Aside from his one word response to God’s call, Abraham says nothing until the third day of the trek towards the mountain. Hineni. Here I am. Perhaps Abraham meant to locate himself in time and space. Here I am. In this moment I will try to open to what comes next. The text mentions no additional comments or speech from Abraham until the third day when he looked up – vayera et hamakom marahok – and saw the place from afar (Genesis 22:4).
I like to imagine that Abraham spent those first few days building trust in God. Anachronistically, he might have chanted the words of Jeremiah, Blessed is the one who trusts in God and whose hope God is. For that one shall be like a tree planted by the waters and spreads out its roots by the river and shall not see when the heat comes. But its leaves shall be green and it shall not be anxious in the year of drought nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
God calls out to Abraham and once again instructs Abraham to go. God will identify the destination. Were I Abraham, I would certainly have felt anxious, drought stricken, without the life force water brings. Yet, the practice of imprinting the image of a tree deliberately rooted by the river serves as a reminder of the potential for growth and flourishing.
As parent, I think about the ways in which we sacrifice our children, seemingly for the greater good – theirs and ours. Schools. Sports. After school activities. This community. That community. Rushing from one place to the next. Only spending time with family. Rarely spending time with family. Myriad options emerge like the colors of a rainbow reflected on the wall by a prism. Yet, as we learned in parashat Noah, the rainbow balances the strength and illuminating beauty of light with the memory of water’s potentially destructive nature. Time, attention and the cultivation of internal quiet releases fear and forms a sacred holder for trust.
Abraham hears a malach – an internal voice of holiness – that opens his eyes to reveal the ram. Hagar too hears this voice of holiness and in so doing witnesses the well, the force of life that restores her son to his potential.
To be sure, bitachon is not blind-faith; nor does it suggest that all is well. Saying to oneself, of course…., means accepting that we are where we are. Our action or inaction may or may not have steered us to this place. Regardless, we are here, we are now, we are one, unified with our fear and our anxiety, with our hopes and our dreams.
Trust demands that we let go of something to be free. Free to live. Free to experience. Free to catch the shooting stars and gently hold our blessings in our hands. Free to trust in God.
@Rabbi Lisa Gelber
November 18, 2016 / 17 MarHeshvan