William Hamilton

Who is doing the conducting

The closest your words get to your will is where you find yourself praying. Since the sudden suspension of Monday night’s football contest, the mortal-danger young Damar Hamlin has been in has made this a very prayerful week. Current signs are thankfully positive.

The groundswell of goodness that continues to rally around Damar and his family offers a touching reminder of our glowing humanity that so often lies prostrate, waiting to be awakened.

Inside most of us there is a full range of behaviors. They interact like a complex musical score. Some melodies get expressed. Others get suppressed or ignored. It depends, at least in part, says the writer Zaidi Smith, on who is doing the conducting. 

Perhaps a worthy question for you to ponder as 2023 begins is, Who is doing the conducting in your life? 

In this week’s final portion from the Book of Genesis, following the proper burial of Jacob, there is a legend that Joseph’s brothers watched him make a side trip to the pit into which they had thrown him years earlier (Tanhuma 17). Joseph does so to marvel at the wondrous deliverance he had experienced ever since that day. But his brothers become gripped with fear that he might be harboring revenge. I prefer a third view. In the distant future, following the Exodus and the entry into the Promised Land, the descendants of Joseph’s brothers will bury his bones in this very place. He will be permanently restored to the land at the very site where he had been torn from it. Joseph’s side trip, then, signals an eventual repair that will transpire.

The meaning you attach to an event may say something about you. Is it menacing? Reassuring? Grounding? Maybe this gets influenced by who is doing the conducting in your life.

This Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He once noted that the source of so much human misery comes from being unable to see ourselves as borrowers who need to repay (Avot 2:14). That is, we experience misery when we forget that life is a gift as well as a trust.  

As you reflect on who is doing the conducting in your life, consider Heschel’s artful interplay between the worlds of commerce and spirituality. He reframes debt into a spiritual thing. Instead of commercializing the spiritual, a regrettable tendency, he is widening the scope of the spirit by spiritualizing commerce.

Life is a trust. Someone trusts you. It’s up to you to make that trust irrevocable.  

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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