When my friend Eddie was dying of brain cancer I held his hand and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
“It’s all a part of the journey,” he answered, and then drifted off to sleep.
A few weeks later, I was holding Eddie’s hand again in the ICU. He was too weak to speak but I will never forget the way he looked at me, so clearly letting me know it was time.
Eddie said the Shema with his young children every night of their lives. He believed in its power and its Truth. Now, he was ready to embrace that Truth in the deepest way. Bent over his bed, I whispered those words from this week’s Torah portion that are spoken twice daily in the life of a Jew and are meant also to be the very last we utter before we die: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.” A moment later, Eddie’s spirit was released from his battered body.
How is it possible that God is one? How can it be that that the God of birth is the God of death, that the God of love is also the God of hate, that the God of generosity is the God of selfishness, and that the God of each of us at our best is also the God of our secret failures and sins; the war that rages and smolders within us again and again throughout our lives? I do not know. And I will never know.
The rabbis of the Talmud did not know either. They answered such questions with a single word, teyku, an Aramaic term that means, "let it stand" or "let it be." The sages knew, and we know, some questions are beyond us. Now what?
Maybe that’s why just before we read the Shema this week in the Torah, we read, for the second time, the Ten Commandments. If you want to know how to live in the midst of the great mystery that is life itself, with all its pain and beauty, the Torah answers with the ten truths by which a life ought to be lived; simply, faithfully, decently.
God is God. You are not.
We are all children of the One; the force beyond, above and within all of existence before which some humility and awe would be in order.
Do not be seduced by foolish celebrities, gross excess, and false beauty.
Must you be so crass, so flippant, so dismissive when it comes to God?
Rest from your cravings. Breathe… Celebrate… Pray… Hold and be held by the ones you love.
Get over their mistakes and lead an honorable life of which your parents would be proud.
Do not break the heart of the one you love.
Tell the truth.
Count your own many blessings and let them be enough…
Does living these truths assure us of an easy life? Of course not. But the goal of Torah and faith is not an easy life. It is a meaningful life; a life in which we are at peace with both what we can and cannot know, the honey and the sting, the many twists and turns, highs and lows that are all a part of the journey…
Love and Shabbat shalom,