Each week at our staff meeting, one of the ISJL employees gives a brief “d’var,” sharing some thoughts about either the weekly Torah portion, or words of wisdom about an upcoming holiday, our time on the road, and so on. This week, Ann Zivitz Kimball is on the road with Dr. Ron Wolfson, sharing lots of words of wisdom with communities across the South – but before heading out of town, she wrote this “for-the-blog-d’var” with her musings on destiny vs. free will … which might also provide some good car conversations while she’s on the road with the Wolfsons. Enjoy!
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate. On the other hand …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with complete and total free will. On the other hand (in her best Tevye voice) …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate, and free will — AND I believe that when we use our free will and follow our hearts and minds, choosing unselfishness and compassion over ego and control, that we are much more likely to be present and aware in the moments that our lives intersect with Divine destiny.
Moses, by his own account, was a “stranger in a strange land”. Through hap and circumstance, miracle and tragedy, he was just passing by a bush, like many others before him; what makes the story different is that he took the time to notice the bush was both on fire and also not being consumed by the fire. From that moment on, he became the central figure in the Torah. Or was it from the moment he was born, or even before his birth, in some pre-destined plan, that he became a great figure? What if he had chosen to walk away as every instinct in his being cried out for him to do? Did he have that option?
Joseph, another stranger in a strange land, was placed in a foreign land by God’s divine plan, as he clearly believes … but was it a plan, or a series of random events? Either the events, or his destiny, led him to a pivotal moment of revelation to his brothers and saving not only the Israelites, but also the Egyptians – and becoming a hero!
Esther, a Jewish Queen of Persia, (undercover of course) found herself in just the right place, at just the right moment in time to save her people. Was it only because Mordecai insisted she apply for the job, or would she have been there anyway through destiny?
It is in those special moments, the great ones recorded in history and the every day ones we experience in our own lives, when we elevate ourselves and others, that we exhibit ourselves in the Divine image and God is experienced as a verb.
Fate, or free will? Can it be both?
Have you ever had a moment (great or small) when you felt that your very presence in that place, at that time, or with that person changed an outcome for the better or saved a life? Did it feel like pure chance … or destiny?
Because the Jewish population of the Deep South is small and spread out, it is common for Jews in the region to be the single source of Jewish information for Christian friends and acquaintances. When my son was in school and any Jewish holiday came around, I would make sure he had had enough information to reply to the inevitable questions of his friends: Why do Jews celebrate_____? What does it mean? Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus? Why did “you” kill Jesus? Aren’t you afraid of going to hell? Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?
And the truth is that the questions are wonderful! I believe it is our responsibility to be informed and have an understanding of the basics of our faith not only for ourselves but also for the friends and neighbors who—with the utmost respect—want to understand more about our religion. Down here, each of us has to act as an ambassador of Judaism, which means doing our best to answer questions, even “while standing on one foot.”
Just last month I was getting my nails done, when the woman in the chair next to me noticed my Star of David and started overflowing with questions. I could barely answer one before the next one came. It was for her a rare opportunity to ask, and for me it was an honor to answer.
I think the most common misconception about Jewish life in the South is that we are faced with a tremendous amount of Anti-Semitism. The reality is that we are faced with a lot of folks who know little about Judaism and most of the time, they simply want to be better and closer friends and neighbors! The only way to deepen friendships is through understanding and respect. I also believe it is our responsibility to have a basic understanding of what Christians believe. Outreach is a two-way street!
What is your most memorable “While standing on one foot” experience?
It’s happened twice in the last four years: I’ve been in the middle of a lovely conversation with someone, and the “accidental slur” popped out: Jewing someone down.
Now, these two conversations were both with different people. Both of these individuals know I am Jewish, and both of them care deeply about me and have a definite respect for Judaism. So why would they say this? Well, they just didn’t know any better … but the real question each time, after someone said it to me, immediately became: what should I do?
They were very different situations, and very different people: one was my 30-something hairdresser. The accidental slur came up when he was sharing a story about buying a horse. Then, there it was: the slur.
I had been going to him for several years at the time, and my mind began reeling as he said it, knowing he meant no malice but… what to do about it?
The next case was when I met a delightful 70-something woman. It was our first meeting, but she also knew I was Jewish and had no malice in her heart for Judaism, or for me. I admired a sculpture in her home, and she then told me the story of how her deceased husband, um … effectively bargained to get it. (The slur again!)
In the first case, with the young hairdresser, I decided that for both our sakes, I needed to point out what he said. I explained that had I been a new customer, I never would have come back, but because I knew him well by now, and knew his heart and knew it was unintentional. I thought it better to explain why the “good old boy” expression was offensive. It was a good move, and he was grateful.
In the second case, although the friend I was with nearly had a coronary on the spot when he heard the older woman’s use of the slur, I silently waved him off. I quickly decided that if I were to share with her how the slur is offensive, it would have caused her great shame and humiliation, so my decision was to simply let it go.
Living in the South, or anywhere where Jews are true minority, these situations can provide quite the dilemma. How would you have handled these or other similar situations?