Seeking Consolation


(Dvar Torah delivered at the joint Kol HaNeshamah/ KJ Beginners Service, held at KJ Beginners, November 21st)

Thank you Rabbi Daniel Kraus for this wonderful Shabbat of unity where East meets West. We appreciate the warm welcome to Kol HaNeshamah !

In this week’s Parsha- Toldot- Esav comes into his house famished, Yaakov is cooking soup and Esav sells his birthright for this bowl of soup. According to the Midrash, to Rabbinic teaching, the soup that Yaakov was making was lentil soup.  The midrash notes that this sale took place on the day that Avraham had died and Yaakov was making the soup as part of the seudah havra’ah the meal of comfort served to mourners. Lentils, being round, reflect the cycle of life and are traditionally served at this meal.

I thought about this midrash when I heard the horrific news out of Jerusalem that took place earlier this week.  As one writer described it,  Tuesday was transformed from a prayer morning to a shiva mourning. All of us, all of Klal Yisrael became mourners of a sort, and we all sought a seudah havra’ah, a meal of comfort as we turned to each other for support, turned to social media for the latest news and support, called and emailed our relatives and friends in Israel to check on, to be with them and said yet again? Rabbis wrapped in  talis and tefillin butchered in the middle of Shemonah Esrai while communing with G d? Something akin to the martyrology we read on Yom Kippur or as a member of Zakka, the first responders in Jerusalem said, it was a scene out of the Holocaust right in the streets of Jerusalem. At such a dark moment like this we say Gut in himmel, Avinu she’bashamayim, G d in Heaven– what is the meaning of all of this? What is the message? How can we react? What can we do?  How can we believe? Yet, we know that any existential questions, any challenges to our belief system as we see holy men struck down in the midst of prayer and ask where was Hashem?– is superseded by a deeper existential question– where is humanity? How can it be that  residents of Gaza handed out candy to celebrate this murder, how is it possible that members of the Jordanian Parliament had a moment of silence for the terrorists? Or that  a Muslim couple named their newborn twins after these terrorists.  It is actions like these that  can leave us all questioning humanity and leave us in such a state of despair, it can immobilize us. Indeed this month is mar Cheshvan. It is a bitter times for Jews and Israelis. Where is the tikvah? Where is the hope?  Can the light of Shabbos, can the light of Rosh Hodesh we will usher in at the end of Shabbat penetrate? Can it lift us out of such blackness?  I think back to what happened five years ago on Rosh Hodesh Kislev when the Chabad shluchim H”Y”D, in Mumbai, were brutally cut down by terrorists. Who can forget the quick witted actions of the Holzberg’s housekeeper who saved their two year old son Moshe at risk to her own life? And who can forget this week the action of Zidan Sayif, the Druze policeman who literally  as a first responder laid his life on the line. Did anyone here see the sight of scores of busses that streamed to the North funded by Hareidim of Har Nof to show Hakarot Hatov , eternal thanks, to Zidan, for his act of Kiddush Hashem to save the worshippers in the Har Nof shul. Amidst this terrible darkness ,we are strengthened  by those Chasidei umot haolam- that do stand with the Jewish people. and we can be strengthened  by our people. Mi k’am Yisrael who give us strength? Listen to the incredible words and call to unity issued by the widows and families of the murdered kedoshim. Let us heed these words as we continue to pray for the recovery of the injured and the souls of our kedoshim–Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg and Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, slain al Kiddush Hashem, along with Druze Police Officer Zidan Sayif.

“With broken hearts, drenched in tears shed over the spilt blood of holy men – the heads of our families. We call on our brethren wherever they are – let us come together so that we may merit mercy from Heaven, and let’s accept upon ourselves to increase love and comradery, between each individual and each community. We ask that every person accept upon himself on this Sabbath Eve (Parshat Toldot, November 21-22, 2014), to set aside the day of Shabbat as a day of unconditional love, a day during which we will refrain from words of disagreement and division, from words of gossip and slander. May this serve to elevate the souls of our husbands and fathers who were slaughtered while sanctifying G d’s name. G d will look down from the heavens, see our suffering, wipe away our tears and put an end to our tribulations. May we merit seeing the coming of our Moshiach (Messiah) speedily in our days. Amen. Signed with a torn heart, Mrs. Chaya Levin and family Mrs. Bryna Goldberg and family Mrs. Yaacova Kupensky and family Mrs. Bashy Twersky and family”

Our hearts and soul and people are in need of a refuah, of yeshua and of redemption. May the words of these holy women penetrate within us and within shamayim so that the Kadosh Baruch Hu, G d bless us all and the State of Israel with shalom and shalva, healing, wholeness  and redemption. Shabbat shalom.

About the Author
Dr. Adena Berkowitz is co-founder/Scholar in Residence of Kol HaNeshamah NYC, an outreach congregation dedicated to reenergizing the spiritual life of affiliated and not yet affiliated Jews. With backgrounds in law and Jewish Studies from Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School and the Jewish Theological Seminary, she is co-author of Shaarei Simcha, a mini prayerbook, the first liturgical work in modern times written by Orthodox women. She is also a visiting lecturer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.
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