Malachi has Gd make a simple request: lo ta-iru mizbeiakh khinam - to not kindle fire upon the altar to no purpose (or senselessly, or in vain.)
All week long, I have been struggling to find my hook for this random musing. I scoured the parasha over and over. Usually, something jumps out at me, or intrigues me. But this time nada, bupkis, zilch. Stubborn one that I am, I put the parasha aside for a while, thinking perhaps a little distance and time might allow me a fresh start later in the week. Yet, again and again this week, after a respite from the task, I attempted to take it up again, only to keep hitting that same wall. Maybe it's writer's block, I thought. After all, how can the text of Torah not speak to me? I have been finding the entire experience extremely frustrating. The holy fire that burns within me hasn't gone out, or diminished. I don't feel less connected to my faith. There's no sense of loss. I'm just not connecting. And that fire that burns within cries out to me "Let me out! Let me burn!" A case of philosophical and theological heartburn, I suppose. Yet no matter how hard I tried, nothing was speaking to me, nothing was coalescing in my brain.
All week I had avoided turning to the haftarah, as this is what I had done last year. After all, who could resist a piece of text in which Gd threatens to throw dung in our faces! Still, I felt it would be a cop-out to turn to the haftarah again, as if to say that I found the parasha lacking. For Toldot is indeed rich with treasure just waiting to be mined. Yet somehow my pickaxe and lantern were failing me. I simply cannot convey the deep frustration I was feeling. It was an all-consuming worry, that intruded on the many other tasks and obligations I had to fulfill all week long.
Deadline approaching, and still nothing coming out of the text, I decided I'd give the haftarah a try again.
Thank you, Malachi, for sending me just the message that I needed to hear today. As part of Gd's litany of complaints against us, Gd says, in 1:10 "If only you would lock My doors, and not kindle fire on my altar to no purpose." Well, that caught my attention.
I may burn with a passionate fire within, and be filled with the desire to share my insights with you, dear readers and colleagues. However, as I began to examine my feelings, my emotions, and even my intentions, I soon realized that I might be attempting to kindle a senseless or useless flame upon the altar. After all, was my true desire to serve Gd, or simply to not disappoint both myself and my readers by failing to come up with yet another interesting take on the Torah? I fear it was the latter- I was more moved to complete what I viewed as a weekly task. And that might seem like enough, but it isn't. At least not for me. It would be like offering up to Gd something just for the sake of offering it, but it not being the best I could offer.
So why, you might ask, am I writing this anyway. Well, call it catharsis. Call it journaling. I may not have had an inspiring new take on the text to share, but I can at least share my experience, in the hopes that others who encounter this same problem (and I am certain we all do) can learn to be accepting of the situation.
Gd's named is profaned enough these days. I need not add to the profanity by offering a senseless musing. Instead, I offer this stream of consciousness, and not as apology, but as acceptance. Sometimes, it just doesn't happen. And that's okay. And this, Gd, and dear readers, is the best I have to offer this week. I pray you find it acceptable.
©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some additional musings on this parasha:
Toledot 5764-What a Bother!
Toledot 5763-Not Sticking in The Knife
Toledot 5762-Winners and Losers
Toledot 5761-Is This All There Is?
Toledot 5758-Like Father, Like Son
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