William Hamilton

What happens next

Some years ago a man prepared to take his life by jumping off a London Bridge.   A stranger stopped to talk to him, urging him back from the brink.  It took years for the man to emotionally recover.  He then launched an internet campaign to find the stranger whose kindness had saved his life.  There were 319 million responses.  Finally Johnny found Neal.  Today they are best friends.  They travel all over presenting on threats to mental health and despair.

“However bleak things feel” concludes Elizabeth Day who shares this story.  “However much you think you have failed, cling on that little bit longer.  Because the real failure might be not finding out what happens next.”

The Torah has an original approach to resignation.  It is revealed this week in responses to poverty.  “Neediness will never cease in your land, therefore you shall eagerly extend your hand to those in need” (Deut. 15:11).   We are to respond to an unsolvable problem with defiance, by doubling down on our outreach.

This is how I always read this passage.  But recently I considered another way to read it. The Hebrew word for ‘cease’ chadal elsewhere in the Torah connotes ‘to stop on its own’, as when Sarah’s menopause is described (Gen. 18:11) or the hail stops falling on Egypt (Ex. 9:34).  Read this way, the verse doesn’t mean there shall never cease to be needy.  It means poverty won’t simply auto-stop.  Its relief requires human initiative.  Thus the verse concludes by urging the eager extending of our hands.

A terrific new book reaches our way in the coming week.  The release of Here All Along: Finding  Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally choosing to look there) offers refreshing takes on Jewish belonging, believing, and becoming.  Renowned speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz demonstrates how deep experiences invite deeper connections and content.  Perhaps it’s not accidental that the book’s arrival coincides with the beginning of our early-morning practice to begin sounding the Shofar – evoking a primal sensation, a visceral awakening – urging our personal renewal.

As we seek fresh ways forward, ‘what happens next’ is in our hands.  May the new season nourish our thirst to build character, to be part of something larger than ourselves, and to bring light into the lives of others.

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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