Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ark Ages

Last night I went to my first women’s event here in Efrat. It was a gathering sponsored by the Women’s Beit Midrash in Efrat and was in honor of Rosh Chodesh and (yet another welcome for) the new olim. It was a beautiful event with words of Torah (in English!), singing, and mingling (all Anglos!). The speaker was teaching about the personality of Noach, from this week’s parsha, and contrasting him with the personality of Avraham. While Avraham beseeched Gd on behalf of the condemned in Sodom, we see no concern on the part of Noach for the entire world that was soon to be destroyed. Avraham is commanded to leave his home and go out into the great wide world, while Noach is commanded to stay inside an ark, separate from the rest of the world. As the teacher explained, one lesson that we can learn from these two distinct personalities is that there are times in life to be a Noach, and there are times to be an Avraham. Sometimes we need to be focused inward, taking care primarily of ourselves and our families, and there are times to be focused outward, taking on the needs of those around us and contributing to society at large. Sometimes we get too caught up in solving the world’s problems that we wake up one day to find that we are totally drained and hardly know our loved ones. This is what people call burnout, and I’ve had firsthand experience on more than one occasion. Other times, we are so caught up in our own lives that somewhere between our grande latte and American idol we fail to see the suffering of others. As one Mussar sage once remarked “your physical needs are my spiritual obligation.” It is quite a challenge in life to know when to move out of Noach’s ark and into Avraham’s open tent, and vice versa. This balancing act is compounded when we become parents as we find ourselves navigating the elusive path between giving our all to our children and making something of ourselves out in the world. As I was thinking over these thoughts during the shiur, it occurred to me that I was going through one such Noach-Avraham dilemma at that very moment. I realized that for the first time in nearly a decade, I was on the other end of the teacher-student spectrum. After creating many, many Rosh Chodesh meetings in Miami and in Australia, I was simply attending one. I was really looking forward to this. It has been so nice being the recipient of numerous programs and classes aimed at my personal well-being and spiritual growth. Yet as I listened to the speaker I felt a strong pang of longing for the “rebbetzinhood” that I left behind. I made a conscious decision when I came to Israel to be in the “Noach” phase of life. This year is for settling myself and my family. It’s for learning and growing. Yet, even as I create a cozy ark, and relish in the simplicity of my days, I still long to spread my wings and fly out into that great big world…

Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be for me.
And if I am only for myself, what am I.
And if not now, when. (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers)

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