Friday, October 30, 2015

"Predictions and Promises" - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayeira - October 30, 2015 (with a little baseball thrown in for good measure)

One trait that I believe is common among most members of the human family is this:   We like to know how things are going to turn out before they even begin.
If certain events or situations were a book, we would want to see the last page of the last chapter most every time.
    That is why we have meteorologists, who are right a lot of the time – so we can plan our day’s activities accordingly.  Sometimes weather forecasters have actually saved people’s lives.  And sometimes even they can’t predict the unexpected storm that develops too quickly to forsee.
    At the beginning of a sports season, there are predictions regarding who will win a league or a championship and, then, who will triumph in individual games.  Then, once the season is over, there are further commentaries about which team will win a playoff or championship game. 
   It’s the same with politics.  Nate Silver, who accurately predicted the outcome of the 2008 elections for president and Congress, said in a recent interview that people don’t pay enough attention to the signs around them, especially when they point to an undesired outcome. 
With Adam Karol at Fenway Park on July 18, 2007 to see a 6-5
Royals win over the Red Sox (who won the World Series that year)  
    As a fan of the Kansas City Royals, I am amazed.  I have a sense of wonder at how things have unfolded last year and this year, and, with every game, all I want to see are stellar performances that will make the contests worth watching.    I tend not to believe predictions because they don’t take into account the events in the course of play that can change everything.  Sometimes it’s mood, it’s mind, it’s the weather, it’s the ball that bounced in an unexpected way, it’s the confidence of the player involved at the moment on which the outcome can turn.  We just don’t know until we get there. 
    When we make life decisions, like moving to a new city, everything probably doesn’t turn out exactly as we expected.  So, a quick poll – raise your hand if life in Las Cruces has been 100% what you expected it to be……90%......75%.....50%.....25%.......10%.....1%.
And how many of you had no expectations whatsoever – in other words – you were just taking a chance?
In asking percentage, I am asking you to quantify a feeling based on many aspects of life:  financial, social, health-wise, your participation in local organizations and events, and your ability to travel to get a change from the desert.   It may even be variables in our lives that are outside Las Cruces that can affect us here.  It is likely that most of us had a sense of what life would be like here that brought us to this place.  And we may still wonder how it’s going to turn out – or we will just let it all happen on its own, doing our part to make the best outcome possible or probable.
    The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Vayeira, is full of situations with predictions and probabilities, as well as promises that were almost broken. 
Abraham and the Three Angels
Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, 1660s
·   First, three messengers came to Abraham to wish him REFUAH SH’LAYMAH after his circumcision AND to tell him that Sarah was going to have a child.  This was not a prediction, it was a promise.  For Sarah, it was a promise that would likely be unfulfilled, because, as she said, “Her husband was old.”  She laughed – and then God asked Abraham why Sarah was laughing about having a child.
·   Next, God told Abraham that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed.  Rather than seeing this as a fait accompli, Abraham challenged God. He turned into a defense attorney for the possible ten righteous individuals who might live in those two towns.  What God proposed, Abraham came close to thwarting altogether.  It would have worked if only there had been some righteous souls in those cities.  There weren’t.  
·   Abraham’s nephew Lot lived with his family in one of those two cities – Sodom.   He escaped, but his wife demonstrated how rules can lead to predictable outcomes.  Looking back at the cities undergoing destruction was a definite no-no.  Lot’s wife gave in to the temptation, and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.
·   Sarah did have a son, who was named Isaac, meaning “he will laugh.”  She saw that Ishmael, the son of the maidservant Hagar and Abraham, was taunting Isaac in the same way that Hagar had taunted her years before for not being able to bear a child.  Sarah asked Abraham to banish them from their household.  God gave Abraham permission to send them away, which meant that God’s previous promise to Hagar might be nullified.  Once Hagar and Ishmael were in the wilderness, God heard Ishmael crying.  An angel appeared to reassure Hagar that her son would, indeed, become a great nation.  A well of water appeared before them, and Hagar and her son were able to carry on.
·   God commanded Abraham, or so it seems, to take Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice.  This directive contradicted God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a father of a multitude of nations and that God would make his name great.  The fulfillment of the promise seemed to become impossible with each step towards Mount Moriah.  That is, until an angel came and told Abraham not to harm the boy, because this was a test of faith which Abraham had passed with flying colors. 
 These are all situations where the outcomes came to fruition only after some type of obstacle or challenge.   I believe that is what real life is about – traversing a journey to a particular goal or destination, where the events along the way make the whole experience meaningful.   To quote one of my favorite songwriters, “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good” (Harry Chapin, “Greyhound”).    So it’s not the prediction of what will happen that is most important, or even the final result.  It is the unfolding chain of events that leads to the end of the story that can elicit from us wonder or amazement.  If the outcome is not what we had hoped, it is always possible to learn a lesson for the future. What if there had been ten righteous people in Sodom? What if Sarah had been patient with Hagar and Ishmael?  What if the angel had not called Abraham’s name?  And what would Isaac’s name have been if Sarah had not laughed? It all would have been different. 
    I am probably not the only person in the sanctuary who has been fascinated at one time or another with science fiction stories that include time travel, changing the course of events – or trying to change them back.  The television show Quantum Leap, the movie Timecop, several episodes of Star Trek and the two latest Star Trek films, NBC’s Heroes, and Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63, have all played with time.  Philip Roth’s novel, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, imagined a United States in which Charles Lindbergh had become president instead of Franklin Roosevelt.  It was a dark story, until the very end.   The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, suggested a State of Israel that did not successfully come to be, so that the only Jewish settlement of refugees that remained was in Sitka, Alaska.  

    The late Yogi Berra would have said about the future, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” While there is no deep thought there, it could mean that we do have many choices before us.  Whatever happens, no matter what the outcome, each of us has a chance to make sure that everything will eventually turn towards a positive end.  Even facing the most dire of situations, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because, in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think it will all come right, that this cruelty, too, will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”   So, whether or not predictions come true, even if promises made are not realized, there is always a place to go – forward, with hope, with strength, and with wonder at the many possibilities that life sets before us.   May we find ways to allow that wonder to sustain us always.

No comments:

Post a Comment