William Hamilton

Make it matter

Why ask questions at a time like this? Amidst darkness and death, is it really a good idea to be curious? 

The Torah says, Yes it is. In this week’s portion, which includes the final plagues, among them darkness and death, questions get asked around the very first Seder table. It’s still ok to ask, Why? Why does learning and education get introduced at such a perilous time?

Here’s my most compelling answer. Make sure all of this suffering and loss doesn’t go to waste. If there’s going to have to be punishing pain, make sure you don’t part company from it without some lasting lessons. 

This is really a form of defiance. It’s Judaism’s favorite posture. Defiance insists: When you’re despairing in the darkest night, be certain of the dawn. So how might we apply this mode of being to our people’s plight today? 

We face two mountainous tasks: 1) our people’s dehumanization, and 2) gathering threats. A defiant response to dehumanization is to humanize. Moral beings don’t become numb to human loss, wherever and why-ever it happens. Watch this 100-second clip from a respected international observer that brings moral-clarity to the IDF’s life-saving efforts. 

How to defy gathering threats? By acting with-the-grain of your strengths. By making sure you act in ways that are worthy of the pressing-burdens imposed upon you. 

The most repeated response to the Seder’s questions is:“It’s for this purpose that God acted for me when I left Egypt” (Ex. 13:8). Take today’s ordeal personally. Get to know what it requires of you. Importantly, make sure it’s not for naught. Make sure you make yourself and those around you better because of it.

Make it matter. Am Yisrael Chai.

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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