Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The way out: a true story and allegory

This morning, after dropping my son off, I left my car window open because it was hot and I was planning to go out again just a couple of hours later. When I got into my car, I saw feathers (pictured here) and other evidence of a bird's presence. I thought, "I hope it founds its way out."

The frantic flapping I heard indicated that  my hope was in vain. Clearly, the bird had not managed to find that the opening that had let it in was the only possible exit. I got out and opened the trunk back of the mini-van and was sure to stand out of the way. A very small bird (amazing that it had that many feathers to spare!) quickly flew out.

I thought about this in connection to Yom Kippur. The idea is connected to Rabbeinu Yonah's image of escape from a prison.  A lot of us feel trapped in a spiritual sense. We can't find that small opening where we fell into the trap and so feel that we can't ever get out. The gift of Yom Kippur is that another exit opens up, and we can get out if only we still have the will to do so.

And, yes, I will likely keep my car windows closed even when I'm going back out in the car shortly.

On 9/11, faith, and the fifth question

This afternoon I heard Rabbi Eli Mansour give the best  shiur I've ever heard on emunah [faith]. What I mean by "best" is not most entertaining but the most substantive and honest approach I've ever heard. It was videotaped. Look under "Ohel Sarah Amen Group" to find it at Really, I can't do the shiur justice here, so I urge everyone to take the time to listen to it. It's now up at; another version in the link below.*

He speaks a bit about September 11th at the end, though he starts off by talking about Amen as an affirmation of faith and the perennial problem of tzadik vera lo. What impressed me in particular about his approach is the approach to faith devoid of Pollyanna perspective. 

The fifth question is something he brings up in relaying what a rabbi answered him about a question on faith when confronted with the apparent lack of fairness in a world in which the good do suffer. He said that there are 4 questions in the Haggadah that we can answer. This is the fifth. Rabbi Mansour suggested that the 5th cup, the one for Eliyahu, represents the answer that will come to that question when he comes in the same manner that the Gemara says that questions that are currently unresolved await Eliyahu's coming for the answers. 

He said that even Yitzchak was told by Avraham that he would have to wait for his own answer to the question on the akeida. He spends some time talking about the akeida, and you really should listen to get the whole picture. I will just relay a very small part of it. (An additional part is covered in

Rabbi Mansour questioned why doesn't our recitation of the Torah portion that includes the akeida end with Avraham being told that the sacrifice of his son is not required? Instead it continues with a list of names associated with Nachor's family, ending with Ma'acha. Whereas Avraham waited until he was 100 to have his son Yitzchak, his brother Nachor had built up a substantial family. Avraham could have felt some tinge of discontent on hearing the news of all his brother's children and their descendants. It's not fair. He he was the one to bring monotheism into a world of idolatry and a paragon of chesed, and he had waited and prayed for a son that he had just been asked to offer up. His brother, on the other hand, had no such credits to his name, yet he had become a trunk to a substantial family tree. 

It is the acceptance of the apparent unfairness in this world that is an affirmation of the tzadik's faith. Reward is not in the here and now, but we don't give up on doing what is right and believing that Hashem will deliver. One other observation Rabbi Mansour made was on why we end with the name Ma'ach in particular. He said it works as an acronym for Melech al kol ha'retz -Hashem is King over all the world.  

Another one of the points Rabbi Mansour made was our repetition of Hashem hu haElokim. He said the Vilna Gaon said that the shem havaya refers to the Hashem's hashgach on the macro-level, what he called "front page news stories," while the other names refers to his hashgacha on the mico-level, for each individual. We assert that He is one and the same. There is hashgacha for the seemingly small as well as for the large events in life.  But that doesn't mean it is always obvious. And this is why he says his daughter's story about an incident of hashgach pratis is the best one. Listen for it. 

* You can see and hear him deliver basically the same shiur in another venue at I heard him deliver another variation of the one heard I heard in the morning the same evening in the Red Shul.  It was basically the same, though there are slight changes in the order and some additional anecdotes. Thanks to Aimee Cohen for pointing to the link in a LinkedIn comment.