Tuesday, December 19, 2006
"If So, Why Do I Exist?"
One of the most profound sections of the Torah occurs when Rifke (Rebecca) is experiencing pain before she gives birth to Yaakov and Esav. She does not know that she has twins, and she had heard that pregnancy would not be as difficult as it was for her. So she goes off to inquire from God a relatively cryptic question, "im ken lamah zeh anochi?" -- "If so, why do I exist?" It is a question that can be understood in a number of different ways, one of which is "If I am experiencing so much pain, why should I keep on living? What good is my existence?"
It is a central question for many people, especially those who may have felt like their bodies have caused them a lot of pain-- from physical ailments, psychological ailments, even pain caused from being born into bodies that have attached to them a notion of "difference", which as Jews many of us have experienced or will experience. In addition to tending to the pain that our corporeal selves force on us, we like Rifke have to continue to affirm that we were born into our bodies for a reason, despite that pain. Like her, Jews (and all people, for that matter) are challenged with the question, "What special gifts do I possess that would allow me to make the world a better place?"
This week, one of the loveliest stories in the news helped us see the benefits of continuing to ask this question. In case you didn't see it (or if you were not at the Pot Luck on Shabbas, when we discussed it--) Two dolphins in an aquarium in Bejing had become sick because of eating plastic and medical procedures failed to extract the plastic because of the contraction of the dolphins' stomachs. In a move that you would think that only a child would be able to conjure, the aquarium decided to call-- no joke-- the tallest man in the world-- Bao Xishun, a 7-foot-9 herdsman from Inner Mongolia with 41.7-inch arms. He then reached into the dolphins stomachs and saved their lives.
All his life, he must have been thinking that he was created as he was so that he could reach very high things or keep track of sheep that wandered a little to far over the next hill. He may have felt ostracized for being so tall, made to feel different because of his height. And this could have tormented him, the pain of being different causing him to ask, "If so, why do I exist?" At least the other day it turned out, that it was his arms rather than his height that provided an answer to this question.