Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Lech L’cha

As a hospital and police chaplain, I meet people in some of their most desperate moments. In the role of chaplain, I enter any given situation as Marc – not as Rabbi Marc. I am there to help folks in ways in which they need, whether or not they comport with my own beliefs. In this work, I meet people from all walks of the religious world. As different as some of their traditions can be from others, I meet a constant response that runs across every denomination or tradition. “I thought God was in control. Why did God do this to me?” Amid trauma, too many either presume that God is punishing them for some heinous sin or that God abandoned them. “What kind of God let’s this happen?”

I remember a midrash, “Once a traveler saw a palace in flames. Said he: “Can it be that there is no master to this palace?” So the palace owner looked out to him and said to him: “I am the master of the palace.” By the same token, because Abraham would go around saying, “Can it be that the world has no master?” God looked out and said: “I am the owner, the master of the world.”

Avram (not yet Abraham) recognized the world’s dysfunction. He cried out against what he thought to be the injustices that filled the “news” of his day. God’s first words to him beginning this week’s Torah portion, “Lech-lecha – Get yourself up!” God’s admonition instructs Avram, “Leave your home and go help me save the world.” God can only control to the extent that we help.

I think that we put way too much on God. Ok, God has never tapped my shoulder to let me know Divinity’s gender, pickle preference, or shoe size, but I somehow have to believe that the need to know these “tangibles” are our baggage, not God’s. People who tell me that they “know” God never seem to agree with each other as to God’s features or behaviors – everyone has a unique and different way of seeing God. Our theological need to know finds itself encapsulated in the boundaries of our spiritual horizon. There are just simple things we don’t know.

What I do know is that blaming God for anguish or thanking God for a touchdown seems to make God only finite – limited in so many ways. If we really believe that God controls everything, then we should not have to study for tests – God will make us pass or not. We don’t need doctors – if God wants us to heal or die – we will. Further, why would God want televangelists to live in million-dollar mansions while parents and their children live in the streets? The way we use God makes no sense.

Something way bigger than me controls the realm of nature in ways I cannot even fathom. I go to sleep every night believing that there will be a world in which to wake up and a life that continued from yesterday with all of my heart. That said, in the realm of things where I can act, I must act – but in ways that bring people together – I think that we are partners in this venture of life. We control what we can. God controls what God can. Heaven and earth touch somewhere in between.

So, for the person suffering trauma, I can only hold them and suggest that God may be crying with them. To the person celebrating success, I must remind them of their energy and tenacity that made the work possible and that I believe God celebrates, too. I believe that this empathetic response is the blessing of our partnership. Even as we pray words that hold God in the highest esteem, we must remember that A good coach helps make players better performers. A great coach makes them more aware human beings. The greatest of coaches is not on the field playing the game. Even the greatest of coaches cannot do what his/her players won’t do.

In this sense, whatever it is that God does or doesn’t do – our paying attention to blessing helps us take what we have learned and use it for each other’s good. God calls, we need to not only listen but be prepared to do something about it – something that helps heal the world.

Shabbat Shalom.