Friday, November 24, 2017

Putting "Anochi" Back In Our Lives

Two of life’s major challenges are 1) to seek out our unique mission in the world, and 2) to seek Hashem’s Presence and guiding influence during our journey.

This challenge is alluded to at the beginning of our Parsha. Vayetzei opens up with Yaakov fleeing from Eisav; sent by his mother to find a wife in Charan. On his way he stops “Bamakom” at an unidentified spot that tradition identifies as Har Hamoriah. There he has a spiritual dream in which God assures Yaakov of ongoing Divine protection.

When he wakes up from this incredible dream Yaakov declares:
“And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know”

In response to this pivotal moment, Yaakov declares “Anochi Lo Yadati”. “It is time for me to explore the Anochi- to personalize these experiences and figure out what this all means specifically to me.
According to tradition, Yaakov saw angels ascending to God’s Kisei Hakavod, Throne of Glory, and then descending back to earth.  One of the images engraved on the Kisei Hakavod is that of Yaakov. Yaakov was unaware that his likeness adorned God’s Throne. Upon seeing his image in the Heavenly sphere Yaakov realizes that God must have important things planned for him. He starts thinking about his unique mission, and what his path towards greatness will entail. It is at this point that Yaakov admits that until now- “Anochi Lo Yadati” - I had never given much thought to Anochi- finding my unique mission and pursuing it.

Anochi means I; and it is the first word of the Ten Commandments. It is used as a reference to the Ultimate I that is Hashem. Anochi Lo Yadati also means that now Yaakov appreciates the importance of God’s presence at every stage of life and in every situation. Until now, Yaakov had been so busy with his own efforts to trick his father, receive the birthright and get out of town that he had forgotten to take a moment to look for and appreciate God’s role in his life.

Let us look to our patriarch Yaakov as a model for how to persevere in the face of challenges: To view every situation as an opportunity to seek out our unique path in life, as well as an opportunity to seek out God along that path.

Let us boldly assert an awareness of Anochi in our lives, and in so doing may we be comforted in knowing (paraphrasing Yaakov) Achein Yesh Hashem Bamakom Hazeh, that God (referred to as Hamakom) is with us at every makom along our journeys.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Yitzchak, Yaakov and the Shidduch Situation

In Parshat Chayei Sarah, many miracles took place to help Yitzchak get married. When Eliezer set out on his way, he experienced a miracle and he arrived in Charan in one day (see Rashi, 24:42). And as Yitzchak was still praying, Rivkah arrived. Betuel, who wanted to sabotage the shidduch, died (see Rashi 24:55). Hashem's hand was obvious in this shidduch.

However, when Yaakov Avinu sought to get married, miracles did not happen for him. When Yaakov was traveling to Charan for his shidduch, he met up with Esav's son, Elifaz, who took all of his money. Yaakov worked seven years for his shidduch, then was tricked, and had to work another seven years. He went through very hard times, until he was finally able to marry and establish his family. Why did Yitzchak's shidduch come about so easily, while Yaakov's shidduch confronted so many hardships?

Perhaps the explanation is that when Avraham sent Eliezer to find a shidduch for Yitzchak, he didn't know whom to choose, and therefore he prayed and placed his trust in Hashem. Yaakov, however, knew whom he would marry. He went to Lavan's house with the intention to marry Rachel. As everyone said, "The older one [Esav] to the older one [Leah] and the younger one [Yaakov] to the younger one [Rachel].' Yaakov didn’t feel the need to pray for his shidduch so intently, nor the need to put his trust in Hashem. He thought it was obvious whom he would marry. This is the reason why he endured so many hardships, because he lacked this total reliance on God. On the other hand, Eliezer prayed and he completely placed his trust in Hashem, and therefore he found Yitzchak’s shidduch easily.

Parshat Chayei Sara is an opportune time to bring attention to the current State of Shidduchim. Some people call it a crisis, but I do not believe that such alarmist terminology is necessarily helpful. We do need to be aware of the rising number of single Jewish men and women of marriageable age. We should teach our children from a young age what characteristics are most important when seeking a spouse. We should model proper marital behavior and demonstrate to them how a successful marriage takes hard work, commitment and dedication. We need to dispel the myth of a perfect spouse or a perfect marriage.

Second, we need to ensure that single individuals (including single parent families) feel welcome and supported in our community. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as Shabbat/ Yom Tov meal invitations, neighbors checking in on neighbors, etc.

We also need to do what we can to facilitate introductions between men and women that could lead to marriage. Whether in the form of formal Shidduch groups and databases, or more informal settings such as mentioning a few names of singles around the Shabbat table or other social setting there are many ways to demonstrate our interest in helping others find their match.

Shedding light on the Shidduch Situation and resolving to find ways to do our part is a step forward in our efforts to create a culture of caring in our synagogue community and beyond.