As I’ve written before, there is nothing harder for a writer to face than a blank white page. Somehow, its nothingness, its emptiness, its void seems to be more powerful than all the wisdom and words we have inside of us. For me, it’s Satan dangling not a red cape engaging me to charge forward with wit and words — the Taurus that I am — but rather an immobilizing blank stare that aims to paralyze me with doubt that I even speak English at all. I return to my old blogs but they nor my voluminous file of articles nor the books that I’ve written give me the assurance, “Don’t worry we too all started with a blank page.” I question sometimes why I should even bother writing. After all, I don’t get paid for it, plus the non-religious think I’m moralizing and the more religious are certain they have nothing to learn from me. And then I think about how important it is in Judaism to save even a single life, even if that single life is mine.
But saving a life is not just about keeping a person breathing, it is also about creating and recreating ourselves to be better people, better servants of God to earn our way to everlasting life. If you are the same person you were yesterday, you are dying. If I have to recycle an old blog, then I’m “dying” too. I question too, “Why does it all have to be so hard? Why is it such a struggle?” I know the answer. Slowly my fear dissipates because the page is not as blank as at first and I realize that my struggle every week is also all our life’s struggle and the struggle of the Jewish people and all those who strive toward God.
It has been asked why from all the Torah’s great men from Abraham to Moses, why the Jewish nation has come to be called Israel, the name given to our Patriarch Jacob after wrestling with an angel who ultimately blesses him: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” It’s actually rather simple. The life of a living, breathing Jew is a constant struggle with God and for God. It is that struggle that makes us Israel; it is the struggle that makes us shine. It is that struggle that makes everything we never dreamed we could be or were destined to be, possible. But sadly, too many of us are stuck in our comfort zones:
“I’m Jewish enough; I give at the office; at home we keep kosher; I listen to YouTube videos about religion….” Not enough. If you are not struggling daily to increase your relationship with God, to refine your character and to bring His light into the world with your unique gifts, you are not living, you are merely existing and slowly dying. Don’t be a comfort-zone-Jew. The number one reason people bungee jump is because they want to step out of their comfort zones and feel alive. Ironic that people are ready to jump to near death, but not to life. Judaism and Torah offer you a jump up and an eternal life, not a cheap thrill. Have faith Hashem will catch you. Stop getting caught up in the secularism and materialism of this world and forsaking your Jewish identity for it. How sad it would be if your designer shoes will outlive your soul. Struggle for God. Be a Jew. No statistic can show you more convincingly that we are doing something very wrong more than the fact we are losing more Jews to intermarriage than to any enemy. It’s time to redefine the enemy. The Torah tells us over and over again that God punishes the Israelites for theirs sins; beloved Jews, it’s time to redefine the enemy.
In last week’s Torah reading we learned that the Jewish nation could not be cursed by their enemies because they were keeping all of God’s laws. And much to the dismay of Israel’s enemies the curses were turned to blessings. Yet we must remain forever vigilant as a people. For those who seek to destroy us come not only with guns and hatchets but also with miniskirts and smiles, with flattery and with false comforts.
Friends, the beautiful thing about the blank page and your life is that they can be whatever you want them to be and read how you want them to read. Every day you have the opportunity to rewrite the story of your life. Just because you were not brought up religious or you were brought up very religious, don’t believe the GPS, you have not reached your destination. It also applies to all areas of our lives. The only definitions that will define our life are the ones by which we live.
In this week’s Torah reading of Pinchas we are introduced to four situations where people were born into a “situation” but it didn’t dictate or assure their journey in life. Pinchas, in an act of zealotry and against his more docile and peace-loving nature as a grandson of Aharon, killed an Israelite prince and his Midianite paramour in honor of God Who prohibited such a union. The act curbed God’s wrath against the nation, stopped a plague and as a result Pinchas and his offspring who were not supposed to receive it, were awarded priesthood by God. “There were eighty Kohanim Gedolim in the time of the First Temple and three hundred during the Second Temple, all descendants of Pinchas. (Via Rabbi Eli Munk, Tosafos to Zevachim 101b). See how one man made a difference.
The next example we see is that of the five daughters of Tzelafchad who petition Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons. Their petition is successful and is incorporated into the Torah’s laws of inheritance. What is important to learn here is a lesson we learn in Ethics of Our Fathers, where it is written: “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.” On a practical level yes, they stood in for sons. But on a deeper level, though they did not have the power to conquer the land as did men, there are many ways to conquer: Sometimes it is with sweetness, kindness, love and integrity. There are many ways to transform and conquer a land, or any task, to serve God’s will. And further it is incumbent on each one of us to stand up in a situation to do the right thing, to point out wrongs and to be “a man,” not a wimp, in God’s service.
In this parasha we are also briefly reminded of Korach’s fate, one which had no precedent nor ever occured again. The earth opened up and swallowed him and his cohorts for rebelling against Moses’ leadership, and then immediately closed up. (Ramban) But we are also reminded that, “Korach’s sons did not die.” Why? Because they separated themselves from their father’s evil ways and repented. As such, “they merited that Samuel the Prophet would be one of their descendants.” (Chabad) We can cast off the “sins” of our “fathers” by being children of Hashem and keeping His Torah. Where there are no men, strive to be one!
And the final example in this Torah portion is the transference of Moses’ leadership to Joshua. Moses had sons, why didn’t one of them get the job? Because being a Jew isn’t about nepotism; not your father, or yesterday’s victories, our last year’s articles or all your connections in the world are going to make you the person you need to be, only you can do that yourself by living day to day from struggle to struggle, by recognizing you are not struggling alone and that the power of God is with you. And if you live in faith instead of fear you just might find you have invented the struggle altogether. YOU are Israel! You may struggle with God and man, but you can prevail–so prevail!