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In The Eye of the Storm - August 25 2017

In The Eye of the Storm - August 25 2017

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While here in New York we continue enjoying beautiful end-of-summer weather, down in Texas they're bracing for Harvey, a wild category three hurricane. A video of a hurricane hunter plane flying right through the eye of good old Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico has been going around, and it got me thinking - not about getting tickets for a ride on a hurricane hunter plane, but about life.

The metaphor of the calm in the eye of a storm is usually used negatively; to describe someone who's blissfully ignorant of a crisis swirling all around them, or of peace before conflict. But I think there's a nice lesson to learn from the hurricane hunters too.

Fulfillment in life is a blend between calm and turbulence. Hard work and grinding perseverance is great, but a mojito on the beach is too. Too much of either isn't good, but both are important.

Judaism is the same. There's tremendous value in weathering storms, but also in blissful peace. What's beautiful about the Jewish perspective on this is that it creates a seamless blend between the two.

The Midrash (part of the Talmud), when discussing this week's Torah portion, brings an interesting idea. It says that God gave the Jewish people, as a sign of his love for them, the 'gift of judges and law enforcement'. Say what? That's a gift? A necessary element in society yes. But a gift of love? Laws and judges are intransigent measures used the keep the population in line!

The key to understanding this lies in the words of Maimonides, the twelfth century Spanish-Egyptian Jew famous for codifying the entirety of Jewish law into an organised book. While writing the rules and functions of the Jewish court system, he sticks in a short message to the judges. He writes that what's unique about the Torah's perspective on judges is that their main job is - not binding the people to the Torah's law, though that is necessary - but making the law palatable, meaningful and enjoyable to the people.

The Torah sees the Mitzvahs and seemingly endless list of Jewish laws, customs, holidays and obligations as a path to true pleasure, peace and enjoyment. It's not something to vacation from, it's something that leads you to 'vacation'.

If the hard work in life, especially Jewish life, is something completely divorced from enjoyment and contentment, that isn't how it should be. Just like a storm where the calm is at its center, so too is it with Judaism. Judaism doesn't place the 'eye' outside the storm. It puts it right at the center. From the outside it might look like a storm of obligations and archaic practice. But from the inside there's calm, focus and purpose.

Rabbi Avrohom 

 

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