#BlogElul 4: Accept

#BlogElul graphic

It’s Elul again!

Wow, Rabbi Sommer doesn’t mess around. Sure, why not bring out the big guns right away? A few days to warm us up and bang, here we go.

So why is the theme “accept” such a big deal here? As I mentioned in my pre-Elul blog post, this has been a tragic year in Rabbi Sommer’s family. The world lost a beautiful soul when her eight-year-old son, Sam, succumbed to a particularly aggressive form of leukemia, and many people around the Internet, including me, wept bitter tears for him and for all of us.

This brings us straight into the painful part. We cannot understand or justify why these things happen. These questions have been asked since the beginning of human consciousness.

In the Jewish tradition, we have one set of answers in the Book of Job, Chapter 38. You may recall that Job lost his children and his wealth on a bet between G-d and the Prosecutor, הַשָּׂטָן or the Satan. Later tradition considers the Prosecutor to be an adversary of G-d, but in this story he is in fact one of G-d’s servants and indeed is considered one of the sons of G-d mentioned below.

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto Me.
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast the understanding.
5 Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone thereof,
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of G-d shouted for joy?

This set of descriptions of G-d’s powers in nature and beyond continues for many poetic lines, but the idea behind them is the same. If you don’t have the power and understanding, just shut up and accept. We don’t know, and we can’t know, and these things are far beyond us.

In Judaism, when a person dies, we don’t believe he’s in a better place. There is no better place for a child than his parents’ arms. While the notions of Heaven and Hell and an afterlife did make their way into Judaism in the Middle Ages, courtesy of the Christian neighbours, they are not a part of Classical Judaism. As King David put it in Psalm 6,

For there is no memory of You in death; in the grave, who will thank You?

The Hebrew word used in this Psalm is actually שְׁאוֹל or She’ol; in later Judaism it has come to mean Hell, but as this translation suggests, the whole concept of the afterlife did not exist in King David’s time. There were ghosts and spirits, and those who brought them up were considered to be sinning severely, but basically the idea was that this life is what we have. How depressing is that?

On the other hand, there is also the concept in the Talmud that all Jewish souls were present at the Convenant at Sinai – but the Torah says there were only 600,000 men there, so let’s say 1.2 million living people. There have been many more Jews than that – in fact, there are more Jews than that alive today. So how could all of our souls have been present there? Does that mean that the Talmud says that souls do exist independently of our bodies after all? Surely this is not meant to be taken literally.

I can’t go into the details of this discussion in this little blog post, but I do know that I kind of believe in reincarnation. There have been so many converts to Judaism in the past sixty years, people who were born and raised in non-Jewish families who found their way to Judaism, as if being pulled by a magnet. I like to think that these are the souls of victims of the Holocaust, who could not find enough Jewish bodies to be reborn into. I have no proof of this statement, of course, and I never will, but I find it comforting.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my friend Natalie had a dream that a little girl’s soul came to interview her about our family and whether it would be a good fit for her to be born into. She wanted a family that would keep a Jewish home, and she also wanted pretty clothes, good shoes and enough to eat – which would suggest she had had a traumatic existence. Of course my daughter has no memory of any kind of previous life – how could she? My oldest son used to tell me stories about being with G-d when he was little, but as soon as he passed the age of three, those stories were all gone.

I don’t know whether this means anything, but it does give me hope and acceptance. Maybe our lost ones will get another chance to walk this beautiful Earth and make a difference in other people’s lives. Since there’s no way to know, one way or the other, why not believe in hope rather than despair?

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2 Responses to “#BlogElul 4: Accept”

  1. Troy Goldenthal Says:

    Thank you, Hadass. I’m actually learning something about the religion my ancestry was raised on.



  2. Hadass Eviatar Says:

    Hi Troy, you just happened to hit that time of year. I don’t usually flood my feed like this ;-). I’m glad you are enjoying it! Always happy to talk about stuff like that any time you like.

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