Soaring and descending

Swinging to and fro like a pendulum, we feel the pull of gravity and momentum. Selfishness is gravitational. Momentum can be divine. Our lives seesaw between that which is less than human and that which is more.  But momentum too can drive us into the ground when we lose our way.

“The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst” writes David Hume.  How then to recover and rebalance?  This season can prove instructive. Rising from collective collapse, represented by last weekend’s observance of Tisha B’av, faith-warming lessons from history and Torah can be of service.

A particular Hebrew word, Shamor, meaning ‘be watchful’ recurs twenty times in this week’s portion of Torah.  Why?  In the Bible, being a watch-person, a Shomer,, means more than observing, more than guarding against harm or misconduct.  It connotes active responsibility.  Cain memorably asks, “Am I my brother’s watchman (Gen. 4:9) and Abraham’s merit is derived from having “kept my watch” (Gen. 26:5).  Biblical watching is not passive. It is a forceful, vehement.  It impels responsible deeds that generate righteousness and virtue. “And we’ll have virtue when we are watchful” (Deut. 6:25).

When we’re driven by fear, contempt, and acting as we please, we reveal weakness.  When discipline and dignity guide our steps, we resource the strength that lifts us and brings light into the lives of others.  May generous moments generate elevating momentum in consoling weeks to come.

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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