Jonathan Muskat

Mi Yodaya: The Power of Curiosity

Rabbi Menachem Penner graced our community with his presence this past Shabbat, imparting not only insightful teachings but also igniting a flame of inspiration that continues to burn within us. His discussions on pressing issues such as the aguna crisis and the LGBTQ community were not just informative but deeply transformative.

What truly resonated with me was Rabbi Penner’s heartfelt reflections on navigating parenthood while staying true to halachic values, especially with his son being a member of the LGBTQ community. His journey of empathy and understanding, fueled by love and commitment, is a beacon of light in a world often shrouded in darkness.

In a brief conversation after Shabbat, Rabbi Penner shared with me that God placed him in a situation of being a parent of an LGBTQ son so he had to develop a sense of empathy. He sees every challenge as an opportunity for growth and connection with the divine. He emphasized the importance of embracing our roles with love, even in the face of adversity. His and his wife’s recent initiative of organizing a Shabbaton for 35 couples who are parents of LGBTQ children speaks volumes about his dedication to fostering inclusivity and support within our community.

Reflecting on Rabbi Penner’s words brings to mind the wisdom of Mordechai urging Esther to embrace her pivotal role in history. Esther was nervous about approaching King Achashverosh unannounced, but Mordechai tells her that she must go to the king. “U-mi yodaya im l’et ka-zot higa-at la-malchut” – “and who knows if this is why you have attained a royal position just for this crisis?” For years, Esther must have been bemoaning her fate as being kidnapped and taken to the palace never to return home. Why was she placed in such a situation? But maybe it was for this reason. Esther embraces her challenging situation and channels it to save the entire Jewish nation. Just as Esther’s seemingly daunting circumstances led to the salvation of her people, our own challenges may hold hidden purpose and potential for greatness.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter once remarked that he had a time in his life when he felt that God was being unfair to him. He was one of the last of his friends to get married and he and his wife waited many long, painful and lonely years to have children. Later on in life, he understood why he had to endure this challenge. His experiences have equipped him to offer solace and understanding to others facing similar struggles, turning his pain into a source of strength and compassion. Rabbi Schachter’s journey serves as a poignant reminder that even in our darkest moments, there lies the opportunity for profound growth and empathy.

In a world filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and constant comparisons, especially in the social media world when it seems that everyone else has a perfect life, it’s easy to question why we face certain trials. Yet, as Rabbi Penner and Rabbi Schachter demonstrate, it’s through embracing our challenges with faith and curiosity that we uncover our true purpose and potential.

Life is a tapestry woven with threads of disappointment and triumph, but it’s how we navigate the twists and turns that define our journey. Instead of lamenting our fate, let us approach each challenge with the curiosity of “mi yodaya”, of being curious, of having an open heart and a steadfast belief that, perhaps, we were placed in this moment for a reason. Like Esther, like Rabbi Schachter, like Rabbi Penner, may we find the courage to embrace our roles and transform adversity into opportunity, making ourselves and our communities stronger and more resilient in the process.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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