Mi Keil Kamokha

In Tomer Devorah, Rav Moshe Cordevero explains the 13 attributes of Divine Mercy, in particular showing them as exemplars for us to follow — “just as I Am Merciful, so too you be merciful.” Rather than following the original revelation of these attributes in seifer Shemos, he uses the version in seifer Mikhah (7:18-20) which we say during tashlikh, and begins “Mi Keil Kamokha — Who could be Divine like You…”Picture a father determined to teach his son how to pitch a baseball. This boy starts picking up the basic skill when he develops anger toward his father, or perhaps simply gets so caught up in pitching that he altogether forgets his father is there. And so, each time the father returns the ball, the son throws the ball powerfully, right at his father. The father overlooks the offence once, twice… but how many times would he continue returning the ball just for it to be used as a weapon against him?Hashem sustains existence. We are here in this moment, with the energy to act and the wisdom to plan my actions because of His Mercy. When someone sins, he is using the very existence and power Hashem granted him to violate Hashem’s Will. And yet, He gives us another opportunity again, and again, and again.This, the Tomer Devorah tells us, is the meaning of “Mi Keil Kamokha…” To have the patience to carry someone even while they offend you, to wait for someone to realize their foolishness.Perhaps this is the motivation for the prohibition “ko siqom – do not take revenge”. Punishment for the sole sake of revenge can be pointless; it is only when punishment is instructional that it become constructive. Anger and impatience are usually not the path to the resolution of the problem, but rather convince us to stop traveling the road before we get there.

May only goodness and kindness pursue me

.וּבָאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל-הַבְּרָכוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֻךָ, כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you listen to the call of Hashem your G-d.

- Devarim 28:2

This verse from parashas Ki Savo recalls a line from Tehillim that we sing often:

.אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּי, וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’ לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים

May only goodness and loving-kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of Hashem for the rest of eternity.

- Tehillim 23:6

What does it mean when we speak of something overtaking or pursuing (or even, as the JPS  translation of Tehillim has it, the milder “follow”) us? Implied is the realization that we so often flee from the very things that are good for us. And with that awareness, we ask Hashem to allow His Good and Loving-Kindness to pursue us despite ourselves!

The Desire to Desire

I must confess that I find mussaf (and many parts of the rest of davening) very difficult. Frankly, I am unable to feel a longing for a restoration of animal sacrifice. I know I’m supposed to, but I don’t.

My work-around is to make that very lack the focus of my intent during the tefillah. Rather than thinking about qorbanos themselves, I mentally make the tefillah about wanting them. The fact that we haven’t had qorbanos for so many years that it’s hard to realize how much we’re missing from our relationship because of their absence. And that too is a hole I must ask Hashem to fill.

So I found this recent editorial in the New York Daily News (27-Aug-2007) quite meaningful, once stripped of her context and placed into mine.

Mother Teresa, a doubter? Mother Teresa, beatified and likely on her way to canonization, lost in the dark night of the soul? What lessons does that impart to those who looked upon her as a saint upon Earth? Lessons of faith and of charity.

For a half-century Mother Teresa struggled with spiritual agony, not finding the comfort of God. Rather, she wrote, “When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ….I have no Faith.”

These despairing emotions are disclosed in a collection of letters, which she had asked to be destroyed, but which were saved and now published. In a book by the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a proponent for her sainthood.

Mother Teresa’s decades of spiritual suffering are nothing less than a testament to the faith she did not think she had. You do not struggle to find something in which you do not believe. You do not mourn the loss of something you do not think exists. (emphasis mine. -mi)

“There is such a terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead,” she wrote. And yet, and yet, she never wavered in labors very few would have strength to continue. Whence came that strength?

Some sour-souled nonbelievers may revel in the revelations. Pity them for their poverty of spirit. Mother Teresa, no matter her doubts, because of her doubts, was poor in everything but spirit.