Meet mystery with goodness

Three of four Americans hold some sort of paranormal belief.  A recent study reveals how prevalent beliefs beyond the realm of scientific understanding are in in the United States – from the notion that places are haunted by spirits and psychics can foretell the future, to a belief that aliens have recently visited earth and certain people can move objects with their minds.  Of course, many beliefs do comport better with reason.  Yet so often we scratch our heads in disbelief over incredulous claims from our neighbors. 

One subject that remains for many an unsolved mystery surrounds the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   This week’s declassification of more than 2,800 documents suggests that the quest for conclusive clarity will, alas, remain elusive.  A truncated 1975 memo, for example,  concludes: ““Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or an agen…” The document ends there and the response is missing.

When we cannot master mystery, our task is to meet it with goodness.  A medieval letter from a father to his son counsels such life advice.  “When a subject is too baffling for you” conveys the father, “note that the Law says Thou shalt do, and not Thou shalt know” (Deut. 17:10-11).  The foundation for the father’s approach is established in the earliest days of our People’s biblical history

The Abraham we first meet in this week’s portion of Torah appears more a man of action than of faith.  He builds altars, wins wars, migrates to and from Egypt, and acts to advance covenantal promises of land and descendants.  Curiously, the only instance when his trusting faith is noted, “And he faithfully trusted God”, is immediately followed by a question, “My Lord God, how will I know that I shall possess the land?” (Gen. 15:6,8).  The response is yet again is deed driven.  Abraham collects the animals through which God will cut the covenant, and the action-oriented portion ends with circumcision.   Abraham’s deeds tilt toward righteousness (v’yach’shvehu lo tzedaka) (Gen: 15:6).

While beliefs may veer, deeds hold sway.  What we believe matters.  But the deeds we do make an impression that lasts.  Abraham impresses us more with his initiative than with his ideas. 

We know how President Kennedy was suddenly taken from us back in 1963.  Certainty over why and who was ultimately responsible may forever remain unknown.  This Sunday afternoon we hope you’ll join us for an Expo of deeds that takes personally JFK’s lesson: “We must never forget that the greatest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”  Even unhinged beliefs can be vitiated by righteous deeds.  May we respond to paranormal beliefs by normalizing faith-warming works.

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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