With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

God: A balm in quietness

26 November 2022
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
Sermon Parashat Toldot

You can watch a recording of this sermon on our YouTube channel from 50:35.

Our sidrah, Toldot, is one of the most dramatic and tremendous pieces of theatre.

It includes recipes, for food, for sibling rivalry and conflict, and for the development of future plot lines. At its conclusion, Rebecca and Isaac have lost both their sons: Jacob in exile at his uncle’s home for protection from Esau who has sworn to kill him; and Esau who by the machinations of Rebecca and Jacob (and one might argue Isaac) had been emotionally lost, took himself off to another uncle, Ishmael.

A stand out moment in the drama is – Esau’s cry when he realises that the blessing due to the first born has been usurped (Genesis 27:34).

כִּשְׁמֹ֤עַ עֵשָׂו֙ אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֣י אָבִ֔יו וַיִּצְעַ֣ק צְעָקָ֔ה גְּדֹלָ֥ה וּמָרָ֖ה עַד־מְאֹ֑ד וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאָבִ֔יו בָּרְכֵ֥נִי גַם־אָ֖נִי אָבִֽי׃ 

When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, “Bless me too, Father!”

וַיִּצְעַ֣ק צְעָקָ֔ה גְּדֹלָ֥ה וּמָרָ֖ה

An individual world falls apart

The only other time this phrase is used in the Tanakh, is when Mordechai believes not only that an individual world has fallen apart but that of a whole People, on hearing of Haman’s decree to exterminate all the Jews.

וּמׇרְדֳּכַ֗י יָדַע֙ אֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר נַעֲשָׂ֔ה וַיִּקְרַ֤ע מׇרְדֳּכַי֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו וַיִּלְבַּ֥שׁ שַׂ֖ק וָאֵ֑פֶר וַיֵּצֵא֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֔יר וַיִּזְעַ֛ק זְעָקָ֥ה גְדוֹלָ֖ה וּמָרָֽה׃

When Mordecai learned all that had happened, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly,

Disquiet in the world around us and also in our souls.

Discombobulation is the word that spring to mind when so many assumptions that had held good for years crumble.

We think, we use wisdom from Torah, that is all the wisdom that we can glean from the world around us. We listen to pundits and commentators, read newspapers and opinions, and even go so far as to contact those we know directly involved in a situation.

For let us not forget our good fortune.

So we know enough, that although we might be less well than we might be, we are alright.

Resolve to do something.

Let me tell you that that you do matters.

But still not enough, we can work for the rectification of the world, ‘tikkun olam,’ fixing it piece by piece. But we do not kid ourselves, we cannot actually fix it. Sort out all problems that cause disquiet

These words are attributed to Rabbi Israel I. Mattuck:

There are sorrows whose roots the sympathy of best friends cannot reach. There are burdens so heavy no human being can help to lift or bear them. There are some whose wounds are too raw even for a friendly touch. What must it mean to such people to know and to feel that One greater than humanity is there with a sympathy silent but how tender! With a balm unseen but how healing. One to whom a heart can pour out its torrents of bitterness without words. A Friend with the tenderness of a mother, with a healing knowledge, and power how healing.

How do we know it is there, our balm, our God?

It is all around us waiting for human perception or perhaps intuition. It is. Fundamentally when doubts assail us, then the potential is greater for we are reaching out. It is also easy at that moment to be mistaken, to want the concrete, the tangible, even the physical. Yet, as the writer of Proverbs wrote, it is there to hold fast to – metaphorically – and on occasion, to feel our soul at peace, to find quiet when the world around us is disquieted.

For a few moments let us be still.

Alden Solovy – ‘Quiet’ was read, found in ‘The Joyous Soul.’