For the Lord shall console Zion, He shall console all its ruins, and He shall make its desert like a paradise and its wasteland like the garden of the Lord; joy and happiness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and a voice of song. Isaiah Ch 51.3

 

I find the last few words of this week’s haftorah a fitting tribute to one of the great entertainers of our generation. In the midst of all the grief and tragedy being fomented by the radical Islamists across the world we knew we could always count on Robin Williams to bring a smile to our face. His talent went beyond movies and he recently twittered himself wearing a kipa creating even a stronger bond with the Jewish community. In God’s consolation he says that joy and happiness shall be found and indeed he gave us the ability to laugh and smile at a time when the world really needed something to smile about. Even though he was Episcopalian he had starred in many Jewish roles and interspersed his words with many Yiddish expressions. May his memory indeed be a blessing to all and keep us smiling for many years to come.

Perhaps as we mourn the tragic death of Robin Williams it may also give us a bit of insight in the first words of our torah portion “vehayah ekev tishmaun” and if you will listen to my words. The commentaries note that the terminology “ekev” (literally translated as a heel) is a rarely used verb and thus is emphasizing the performance of mitzvot that are often trampled upon. It is if we are being reminded that even the insignificant commandments are of equal importance and should not be taken lightly.

However the Torah shouldn’t be understood in a vacuum as it represents a greater comprehension of the totality of life. All too often we focus on what we perceive as important and ignore that which is truly important. We saw the comedian and the levity; we saw the joy he brought to us and the constant smile and happy exterior he presented and we were lulled into a false sense of security. We may have ignored the drug use attributing it to being part of the Hollywood scene. We ignored the telltale signs of depressions as we didn’t want to delve into his personal space. We saw only what we wanted to see, ignoring all else which we easily dismissed as being insignificant.

His death must be a wakeup call. Our communities are so focused on ‘important’ matters that we sometimes risk ignoring the truly important matters. Our schools are so focused on academia that they often forget issues that may be more significant in the long term. Recently a highly acclaimed Jewish student in one of the premier Jewish Schools in South Africa shocked the Jewish world by wearing a keffiyah in an international forum to show solidarity with the suffering in Gaza. It is not that he is anti-Israel, he was misguided into believing what he was doing was in the best interest of the Jewish people. He focused on what he believed to be important ignoring that sometimes the little sign of sympathy may be used as a catalyst by our enemies to create enmity and hatred for the global Jewish community. Of course free speech is of paramount importance but often it comes with ramifications that may often undo its benefit. Perhaps it is not too late for our day schools to focus more on the “ekev”; to emphasize a love of your family and people and a stronger embrace of Zionism and its ideals. I don’t want the suffering of others to be ignored; all I want is that first and foremost we give show support and sympathy to our family.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Jack

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