Last week at this time, we had 22 Israeli teens staying in 22 different homes in our community. My heart was full watching the friendships that were established during their short but intense visit. Tonight, my heart is broken as I read the story of 25 Israeli teens hiking near the Dead Sea when ten of them were swept away and killed by flash flood.
One group flew overseas with no major glitches. The other group went on a hike in their home country and nearly half of them are gone.
The first of this week’s two Torah Portions is called Aharei Mot – After Death because it begins with a reference to an event which took place six chapters earlier in the biblical narrative. That event is the untimely deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two young sons of Aharon the High Priest (and Moshe’s nephews). These two young men were struck down in the prime of their lives.
One moment, they were two young priests operating in the Tabernacle, one of whom would succeed their father as the High Priest. The next moment, they had been consumed by fire, dead where they had stood. Despite their father’s connections, despite their own skills and potential, their lives were over. No second chances. No do-overs.
Now, I do not mean to sound morose. I do not go through life thinking that the glass is half empty. In fact, our tradition is one of optimism – despite the many jokes to the contrary. We always think that a better day, a better time is fast approaching.
However, I do think that many of us go through life focusing on those things that we don’t have without appreciating the many blessings that we have been granted. And despite the many blessings in our lives, we are inclined to ask ourselves: “What makes today so special?”
To answer that question, our daily liturgy gives a checklist of things that we might take for granted each morning. I couldn’t help but think about it this morning as I chanted the Morning Benedictions at our Minyan.
If you look at the translation, it seems as if we are thanking God for universal acts of kindness. However, a closer look at the first blessing, and the last eleven blessings (#’s 2,3 & 4 were added later – that’s a topic for another time) gives us another way to understand these blessings. Each of the verbs used in these generous acts – clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, releasing the bound – has a second, more literal meaning.
While we are thanking God for universal acts of kindness, we are also thanking God for some more personal, mundane blessings. Each one is a double entendre.
So, what makes today so special? According to the Morning Benedictions, it’s simple:
• Waking up in the morning
• Opening our eyes
• Getting dressed
• Stretching out
• Straightening up
• Standing up
• Taking a step
• Relieving oneself
• Putting on a belt
• Putting on a hat
• Leaving the house
• Washing one’s face (if this seems out of order, the well was outside!)
These are not the types of things that we expect to talk about in the middle of our liturgy. These are not the types of things for which we generally give thanks. These are not the types of things that we even notice. Yet, Aharei Mot – After Death, perhaps we should reconsider our approach.