The struggle to protect
09 Nov 2018

The struggle to protect

Dear families and friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, opens with Yitzchak and Rivkah struggling for years to conceive. They pray to God for help, and in their 20th year of marriage, Rivkah becomes pregnant with twins. It’s your standard pregnancy with pickles and chips, and sending Yitzchak for late night runs to the depanneur for Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice-cream (“don’t bother coming back without it” she’d call after him as he headed off on his camel, her tone suggesting equal parts love and menace). However, it’s also a hard pregnancy. Even though Rivkah tries to eat brain healthy foods, cut down on how much wine she drinks during “kiddush”, and plays prenatal classical / chassidic music to her unborn twins, the Torah relates the following:

And the children struggled within her, and she said, “If [it be] so, why am I [like] this?” And she went to inquire of the Lord. (Bereishit 25:22)

Rashi’s famous commentary on this pasuk is that:

Whenever she would pass a house of prayer or house of study, Yaakov would struggle to come out … and when she passed a house of idol-worship, Esav would struggle to come out. Also, they were struggling among themselves, fighting over the inheritance of the two worlds (i.e., the material world, and the “world to come”).

As much as she tries to protect them, life filters its way through the uterine wall. These unborn babies, who are literally enveloped by their mothers love, respond to both helpful and harmful outside stimuli, even in their protected, warm and nourishing cocoon.

One of the beautiful things about learning Torah is that your understanding of its lessons naturally changes over time, as you grow and move through life’s stages. When you learn the above story as a child, you relate to either Yaakov or Esav, the studious kid or the wild kid, and you rarely think about it from Rivkah’s perspective. Parenthood changes your frame of reference. Taking care of children, and teaching students changes your frame of reference. I see the story now only through Rivkah’s eyes.

It has been such a hard few weeks. The world is constantly getting in, crossing our protective barriers, despite our efforts to shield our children and our students from the evils of Pittsburgh and now Thousand Oaks. We like to think if we do everything right, say everything right, and monitor what our kids are exposed to, then we can protect our kids. And to a certain extent, we do.

However, what if we, the parents and the educators, are not alright? What if the hardness of the past few weeks has crossed our defenses? It’s not a hypothetical “what if?”. It has crossed our defenses. I have talked to so many parents, and so many educators over the last two weeks, and everyone has been rocked to their core. For many, their stress level is off the charts. And they, and we, have to bottle it up, put on a brave face, get into a routine, and parent and teach. However, like Yaakov and Esav, our children and students know something is up. Some know more, some know less. As much as we want to hide things from our kids, we are still linked to them in deep and mysterious ways. They sense the change in us, and they act accordingly.

So if you are feeling lost, depressed, sad or anxious, reach out and talk to someone. Go for coffee with a friend. Go for a walk or a run. Go to shul or learn some Torah. Meditate or do yoga. Give someone who needs a hug a hug.  Check in on your kids and your spouse or partner.  Share how you feel with those you love and those you work with.  It’s okay to say you are not okay.

The world has gotten in, that much is abundantly clear.  It’s how we deal with it and make sense of it that makes all the difference to those we love and care for.

Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach.

Mar Abba