Torah Reading for Week of October 14-20, 2012
“The Message of the Waves”
By Corinne Copnick, M.A., AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student
“My love shall never depart from you,
And my covenant of peace shall not be removed
— says the One who loves you, the Eternal” (Isaiah 54:10).
As I prepared for my studies at AJRCA, I tried to make space on my bookshelves for new books. That meant packing away others. One of the books I leafed through was Rabbi Ed Feinstein’s “Tough Questions Jews Ask,” intended for young adults. It flew open to a page that addressed the question, “What is God Anyway?” What is the One in the Shema? In reply, he presented an analogy to the waves in the ocean. If each wave had awareness, it would understand that it was part of something larger. Each wave rises and comes to an individual crest – how big will this wave be? — but then it recedes and becomes part of the ocean again. Once more it merges to become One. Obviously “Tough Questions” will remain on my shelf.
I reflected, however, that the analogy didn’t mention the destructive power the same waves could unleash if nature ran wild. Or if, as portrayed in the Torah, G-d decided to destroy mankind by flood for immoral conduct beyond reprieve, a destruction G-d regretted and promised never to do again — something to remember as once again our present day world stands on the brink of nuclear devastation. How do we best use our scientifically awesome individual and collective power? How do we prevent the flood?
I shook off these heavy thoughts and returned to the book shelf. Since today one can readily find health care information on the Internet, I removed a large book dealing with remedies for common medical problems. Then I gasped to see my late mother’s handwriting on the book’s flyleaf. It looked so much like my own, a little fancier, the letters more open. It was dated 1995 when my mother was 90 and intended as a birthday gift for my daughter. The inscription explained the etymology of the word “shalom.” It meant not only peace but wholeness, completion. For my mother, this also meant healing and health, all of which she wished my daughter on her birthday, in effect, the day of her continued rise to the crest of her individual wave.
Later, my mother explained, not only did “shalom” become “salaam” in Muslim usage, but the Malaysian Muslims changed it to “salang.” Then British soldiers serving in Southeast Asia during World War II appropriated it when they returned to Britain, and that is how “shalom” became “So Long.” I remember the words of this song of my Canadian youth, sung in hale and hearty celebration:
“So long, it’s been good to know you…
it’s a long time since I’ve been home.”
This is the message of the waves, I thought. Enjoy your brief time as you rise to your towering strength. It’s been good to experience the air and the sun and to see far into the land, but don’t overpower it. Don’t use your strength to destroy. Be the best wave that you can be until it is time to recede into the company of the other waves in the oneness of your eternal home. It’s good to be home. That’s what my mother did when she was 93. She went home. Yet her generous spirit still lives in the company of those who knew her, loved her, in the inscribed message of the flyleaf. Shalom!
 Rabbi Ed Feinstein. Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish Life. Jewish Lights Publishing: Woodstock, Vermont, 2003.