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How quickly will our pulse return to normal after Paris, Beirut, Sinai…?

Posted by Rabbi Ron Symons on November 16, 2015

Yet again, we are under attack.  The attack is two-fold.

It is life-threatening.  People across our globe are being killed and oppressed because too many of us are not embracing the concept “Love your neighbor as yourself” as a way of life.  The devastation in the Sinai, Beirut and Paris (just to mention a few of our current challenges) are the recent expressions of this hatred.

It is also spirit-threatening.  No matter your connections to Paris, no matter how many or few friends on Facebook clicked on the safety check, our spirits are getting tired of the cycle of death, mourning, commitment to change, death, mourning, commitment to change, death, mourning, commitment to change.  When will it end?  Will we ever break it? I am getting tired of all this and want it to end.  I want to know where to put my next foot on our journey to safety.

This uncertainty has played out in every generation for individuals and communities at large.  As we open this week’s Torah portion, (Vayetze, Genesis 28:10-32:3) we find father Jacob on the run.  You remember, he just stole the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau and her fears for his life.  So he runs.  Physically and emotionally exhausted,

He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it.

(Genesis 28)

We are both the children of Jacob and Jacob himself, tired and exhausted from the run.  So tired, that our dreams are extensions of our journeys.  When will we find rest?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reflects well on these questions:

[This is a decisive spiritual moment] …of Jacob’s life, yet… [it] happen[s] in liminal space (the space between, neither a starting point nor a destination), at a time when Jacob is at risk in both directions — where he comes from and where he is going to. Yet it is at these points of maximal vulnerability that he encounters God and finds the courage to continue despite all the hazards of the journey.

I wonder and hope:  Maybe we too will find our spirits restored at this lowest of times?

He continues:

When I became Chief Rabbi I had to undergo a medical examination. The doctor put me on a treadmill, walking at a very brisk pace. “What are you testing?” I asked him. “How fast I can go, or how long?” “Neither,” he replied. “What I am testing is how long it takes, when you come off the treadmill, for your pulse to return to normal:’ That is when I discovered that health is measured by the power of recovery….

Let us recover.

Let our pulses return quickly so that we can break the cycle.

Let our dreams have no night mares in them so that we and God’s messengers can climb as high as we wish.

That was Jacob, the man who at the lowest ebbs of his life had his greatest visions of heavens.

Let us, the children of Jacob, have our greatest visions of heaven… even now as our pulses return to normal.


I encourage you to Read Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ complete thoughts in Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of The Jewish Bible, Maggid Books, 2015.  Pp. 31ff.

Rabbi Ron Symons serves as Senior Director of Jewish Life of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh.

(Original Paris Peace Sign was created by French Illustrator, Jean Jullien. The Lebanon and Russian Facebook Country Filter was made using this tool)

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