Hi Cool Shul readers!
So sorry I disappeared for awhile. You’ll see why when you read this sermon which I shared at our Shabbat celebration Friday night…
I’m not going to give a Torah talk tonight, especially since many of you will be hearing a gorgeous sermon from our Bat-Mitzvah tomorrow. I’m going to leave the Torah to her. But there is something that has been on my mind lately, and I thought I would share it with you in case it helped any of you as well. After all, I always say being a spiritual leader isn’t about having all of the answers. It’s about searching for answers and sharing any discoveries with your community.
I have long said that my favorite part of the prayer book is the Ma’ariv Aravim. Why? Because it ushers in not light, but dark. It is gratitude for the night and the cycles of night and day, darkness and light. Of course, this can be taken literally but it can also be considered emotionally and spiritually. I often tell the story of a Bat-Mitzvah student who once studied with me, whose friend’s father had passed away. My student had a very strained relationship with her own father, and while she watched her friend grieve, she began to appreciate her father for what they DID have, and she committed to repairing their relationship as much as she could. But she felt immense guilt that someone else’s loss led to her increased happiness. I told her not to worry… it is all there in Ma’ariv Aravim. Darkness leads to light and light leads to darkness and so on and so on and so on. It’s our job to accept that cycle, learn from it, and do our part to make sure some light always comes out of the dark.
I think it was Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalomi who suggested that it might, in fact, be the purpose of humanity to get comfortable with the uncomfortable: to accept that all that is negative has a shred of positive and vice-versa… to accept that the world is not black and white, right and wrong, up and down, but a muddled mess of all of the above.
Most of us, myself included, spend a lot of time trying to force our realities into defined spaces where they don’t belong. We want to feel all good about something or all lousy, all joy or all pain. But according to Reb Zalman, part of the purpose of our lives is to find peace in the grey, to stop judging ourselves for being so darned complicated, and to accept living in a perpetual state of bittersweetness.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because I recently lost my father, and I’m finding myself lost in a sea of conflicting emotions. He was a wonderful dad, and I miss him. That’s emotion number one. But in his last days, he was very much no longer himself and no longer had a life worth living. So, I found myself relieved when he was gone. That’s emotion number two. Of course, I also felt guilty for feeling relieved. There is three. I felt angry there was nothing the doctors could do (that’s four) but also grateful for their gentle care (five!). And when we decided it was time for hospice, the pain of making that decision was acute. That’s six. Now, it is time to try to re-enter what was previously a pretty joyous life and find that joy again, which I am. So that’s seven. Finally, the illness brought my family and I much closer together, and I’m feeling a much deeper sense of love for them and from them as a result of all we shared. That’s eight.
So, I find myself wrapped in loss, guilt, anger, and pain but also relief, gratitude, love and joy. It’s like ping-pong balls of emotion bouncing around in my head, leaving me exhausted and confused. I think we’ve all been there one time or another and most of us probably torture ourselves about it. But what if we stop judging and instead start believing that this mixed up sensation is part of the purpose of our lives… To find peace in confusion and comfort in the dichotomy. To allow ourselves to swim in the unresolved.
Think of a time when your emotions were betraying one another and pointing at each other in disbelief that the other simultaneously existed. Got it? Now let it go for once and for all. Realize that the struggles of that moment, and the many moments yet to come in our futures that will be tangled webs of sensation, are part of the purpose of our lives. Only when we learn to accept this state and navigate those waters will we ever be able to truly care for one another.
Let’s forgive ourselves for being complicated, and find peace and magic in the mess.