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The Yin and Yang of Jewish Living

Pixar/Disney-Pixar, via Associated Press
Pixar/Disney-Pixar, via Associated Press

Light and dark, order and chaos. Happiness and Sadness. Our world has only ever existed with contradictions and opposites. Most we live with and take for granted. The school-year and summer break. The work-week and the weekend. 

Of course, in Judaism we declaratively state these separate moments as distinct. We raise a glass and say a Kiddush or a Havdalah. We recognize that, to quote both King Solomon (Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 3:1) and the Byrds, ‘to everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn) an appointed time for everything under heaven.’ However all too often these moments come back to back and even overlap, and these moments can consist of deeply contradictory emotional states. 

Within the span of just a few short days I will have experienced:

    • A basketball tournament in Manhattan for hundreds of Jewish teens coming together from Torah U’Madda Modern Orthodox institutions from all over North America
    • The wedding of the eldest son of some of our closest friends
    • A celebration for my son’s class receiving their first Tanakh 
    • A celebration for my daughter’s class receiving their first siddur
    • A celebration for my son’s class receiving their first Chumash 
    • A family simcha for my daughter’s bat mitzvah    

And yet, while all this has been going on, our brothers and sisters in Israel have experienced terror attack after heart-breaking terror attack. This has been the bloodiest several days on record since 2006. 

    • Four people were killed in a stabbing and ramming attack in Be’er Sheva
    • Two people killed in a shooting in Hadera
    • Five people killed in a shooting in Bnei Brak

And the world wants to focus its attention on an awards show moment. Talk about a slap to the face. 

While sitting in our school’s auditorium surrounded by smiling parents holding phones ready to capture a beautiful milestone on camera, watching our children’s class perform their Chumash play, my imagination could not help but simultaneously play out the nightmare scenarios of this week’s news from across the Atlantic. 

Of a young rabbi on a walk with his toddler in a stroller sacrificing his life to shield his son from the barrage of bullets, while his eight-month pregnant wife naps back at home. 

Of the trauma of my friends that have to watch violence and blood play out in front of their eyes, both in real-time and in their social media news feeds. 

Of the PTSD that past victims and their families experience with each new attack, forcing them to relive their personal nightmare over and over again. 

In Judaism, we are often forced to find the head and heart space to experience incongruous moments, a wedding and a funeral back-to-back, and find the meaning in all of that mess of emotion. 

When it came time to share my remarks with the audience and students gathered for the second-grade Chumash celebration, I stood up with a wild mix of these feelings flooding my nerve endings. I told the students how proud we are of them, and we are, and how proud they should be of themselves, and they should. But then I continued. 

I gently pointed our attention to those 11 precious flowers that G-d chose to gather to Him this week, to create such an exquisite bouquet. We spoke about Rav Chaim zt”l and the role he played as the towering cedar; a Torah giant for our entire people. We spoke about the Chumashim they held in the excited hands as marvelous seeds that would grow into beautiful flowers and trees of their own. The Torah is a Tree of Life that they must grab hold of and never let go. 

And I asked them who was ready to step up and grow into our people’s next cedar tree of Torah, the next Gadol or G’dolat Hador, the next Morah, Rabbi, Rebbetzin. I told them that everyone in that auditorium was ready and waiting to watch these seeds take root and blossom. That we could not wait to see the beauty of each flower in this amazing garden. 

And then, right there in the auditorium, we spontaneously sang together, students and audience, a song that speaks to the heart of these contradictions we live with, and the hopes and aspirations we parents and grandparents share for our children and for the future:

Our brothers of the whole house of Israel

Who are in distress or captivity, on sea or land, 

 May the All-Present have compassion on them

And lead them from distress to relief,

From darkness to light,

And from oppression to freedom,

Now, swiftly and soon – 

And let us say: Amen. 

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Green is the Head of School for Akiba Yavneh Academy, a Modern Orthodox coed day school serving students from infants through 12th grade in Dallas, TX, where he lives with his wife Elisheva and their five children. Before coming to Akiba Yavneh, Yaakov has served as a school administrator for many years in St. Louis, MO, and Boca Raton, FL. Yaakov holds a master's degree in education, concentrating in Ed. Tech. Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Political Science, and has participated as a cohort fellow in many educational programs in Harvard University, JTS Davidson School, and University of Missouri, St Louis. He spent several years developing innovative programs that have been implemented across North America, Israel, and Australia, in classrooms, camps, and conventions, synagogues and Sunday schools.
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