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The Blessing of Vulnerability

09/06/2021 03:45:16 PM


Rabbi Weinberg

There she was ready to spring into action- the darling of Spring, Texas. Who wasn’t aware that the GOAT of gymnastics was about to extend her extraordinary capacity to demonstrate the impossible?

Simone Biles explained to her teammates after a disappointing vault on the first apparatus, “I can’t compete- you go on without me.”

Who did not feel for that young woman? She had trained to be in the best condition of her life. But mentally she was suffering. How could one person bear that kind of pressure?

The floodgates were opened. We were given permission to address the subject of mental illness. Other athletes shared their struggles. Their perfectly chiseled bodies housed souls that were real, that needed to be nurtured, cared for, and supported to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Unknowingly, Simone Biles enabled each of us to speak about our vulnerabilities.

The rabbis of the Talmud were keenly aware of this human condition. Listen to this exchange that occurred in the rabbinic community two thousand years ago.

Rabbi Jonathan, a great sage became very sick. He secluded himself from the community, refusing to see anyone until his friend and student, Rabbi Hanina came and visited him. Rabbi Hanina asked Rabbi Jonathan, “Are your sufferings endearing to you?” Are they something you wear as a badge of honor? Rabbi Jonathan responded, “Neither my sufferings nor their rewards are endearing to me.” Rabbi Jonathan then reached out his hand from his sick bed to be lifted-up. As he became stronger with his student’s help, he said, “One cannot break out of prison on his own.” (Berachot 5a)

As we enter into this New Year of 5782, each of us can be that individual who guides another out of his own prison. Overwhelmed with loneliness. Struggling with addiction. Children who discard their parents’ love. How to pay for college? How to care for a failing parent or spouse? How to carry-on when the world seems to be rejecting us, when we have been left behind by a spouse?

No one lives without anxiety. Not one of us is worry-free. But how many of us are willing to address our struggles, to expose our vulnerabilities, to lower the barriers that protect us but, in fact imprison us?

When we encounter a crowd of people, the rabbis suggest we recite a special bracha- Baruch atah Adonai…yodea razim- Blessed are You, Adonai who knows our secrets, who knows so many of us are struggling this year, burying our secrets, unwilling to share our concerns- the need to be supported, comforted and loved, the need to be literally touched and held by those we love and miss so dearly.

We have inherited a world ravaged by extraordinary forces. Climate change- scientifically identified or not- has unleashed energy we have not seen in most of our lifetimes. Forrest fires engulf thousands of square miles across most every continent. Communities devastated by floods never experienced before. Droughts have left sections of our globe reeling from the lack of water. The political extremes we are attempting to navigate are simply mindboggling. We cannot even agree to utilize a vaccine that has now been tested on a billion people.

Why? Why can we not talk? Why can we not listen to each other? Essentially, because we cannot accept our vulnerabilities. So, we build our walls. We cordon- off ourselves from the truth, from our friends, even from God, the knower of secrets.

Rosh Hashanah implores us- stop running, release yourself from the prison walls so many of us have created.

Who amongst us has not been brought to our knees this past year? I will never forget the moment a physician came to me early-on during this pandemic. He said to me, “This is all I know- medicine. I am lost in the world if I can’t practice my trade.” He was so scared of being overwhelmed and not knowing where this pandemic might lead us.

Who hasn’t wondered, “what if this pandemic doesn’t come-to-a-close for a considerable length of time? How much longer can I prevail without visiting, seeing and hugging my family members?”

I was so fortunate to squeeze in a ten-day trip to Israel this past June between lockdowns in Israel. I saw my two grandchildren, Ariel and Maya, along with Jordana, Danielle and Gilad for the first time in a year and a half. Ariel still thinks I live in outer space, somewhere. How do I accept his notion of reality?

We are all vulnerable and the more honest we are with ourselves the healthier we will be.

This winter will mark the fifth anniversary of Wende’s death. At age 57, she had a lifetime of giving ahead of her. Following her death, I sat in our daily minyan and cried for a year. I cried for the years stolen from Wende, and I cried for the loss with which my girls would have to live. I cried for the loss I endured- my best friend and confidante. And I cried for all those children and adults who had been touched by her smile, her warmth, and her wisdom.

Every morning I read Psalm 30 in our siddur. “…ba’erev yah’lin be’khi v’la’bo’ker rinah….ha’fakh’ta mis’pi’di lih’ma’khol li….”. Tears may linger for a night, but joy comes with the dawn. You, God turned my mourning into dancing, You, changed my sackcloth into robes of joy.”

My tears were an expression of my vulnerability. I couldn’t imagine my tears transformed into laughter. With the encouragement of so many of you I continued on my journey, feeling the support and love I needed to move forward.

Then, I met Yaffa, in Israel. Both of us were on the Dallas federation mission trip to Israel but had never met. Ten days of speed dating while on a federation bus began to clarify that statement from the book of psalms. Maybe, my tears would be transformed.

I am used to living in a fishbowl- I have done so for a lifetime and have embraced that role. Everyone watches the rabbi and his family, and everyone has an opinion. But this was a new chapter for me. Was I ever vulnerable! Everyone had something to say. I had never walked this walk before. It was exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

I feel incredibly fortunate to stand before you on Rosh Hashanah and thank you for your faith in me. There are so many amongst us who are lonely, who yearn to find their bashert, that person who makes us feel whole, complete, and at peace with ourselves.

There is a part of me that expresses guilt. Why am I so blessed when so many others yearn for the blessing I have found?

Having experienced love and loss, and then love again, I feel exceedingly blessed, and I thank you for enabling me to take this journey.

So many of you have welcomed Yaffa into our community, reassuring me with your friendship and support. I can’t thank you enough for your generous expression of acceptance, for opening your hearts to me and to Yaffa during a time that has been filled with so much angst. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. But, if we are fortunate, we will have friends to guide us, support us, and hold our hand when nothing else can take its place.

As the New Year of 5782 dawns, filled with its challenges and blessings may each of us find the strength to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. It is those vulnerabilities that make us real, open to friendship, and welcoming to God, our Maker who invites each of us to have the courage to acknowledge our insufficiencies. Indeed, may each of us realize the impact we can have on our world, filled with so many people who are vulnerable, who need our friendship, who need our advocacy, and who need our presence.

Shana Tova u’Metuka

Thu, August 18 2022 21 Av 5782