An Anchor in Troubled Times

When I lived in Toronto, I often took my out-of-town guests to Niagara Falls for the day. It was a beautiful drive. We’d wind our way through the wine district, eat a leisurely lunch at one of the lovely restaurants at a winery, spend time in Niagara-on-the-Lake and of course, visit the magnificent Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls - The Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls)
Niagara Falls – The Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls)

No matter how many times I’ve been to Niagara Falls, their grandeur and majesty still leaves me in awe. One of the most spectacular things to do, is to walk under the caves on the Canadian side of the Falls. You can actually walk right under the Falls themselves and touch them. It is breath-taking!

Then we would usually drive along the Niagara River, to see the Floral Clock. And we would observe the violent rapids just upstream of the Falls, where the Niagara River suddenly becomes turbulent.

Niagara River Rapids
Niagara River Rapids

As you travel farther north along the river, the river’s current flows more gently and boats are able to navigate more easily.

On one of my trips, as we crossed over a pedestrian walk-way that spans the river. I noticed a sign posted on this bridge that I had never noticed before – a warning sign for all boaters. “DO YOU HAVE AN ANCHOR?” the sign reads in big block letters, followed by: “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT?”

The gentle calm of the river at this point gives no indication of what lies up ahead. But if boaters are prepared, they can safely navigate the turbulent waters.

When I reflect on the events that took place in Overland Park, Kansas, or in the Ukraine, or in other parts of the world right now, it seems to me that the Jewish people have been thrust into turbulent waters. How do we respond to these difficult events? How do we show these communities that their safety and well-being are our concerns as well, while at the same time, taking care of our own Jewish communities here at home?

Where do we find our anchor that will keep us rooted safely and securely no matter what type of turbulence life sends our way?

We can find some of our answers in our Passover story. Our Passover story is all about finding our “anchor” in the midst of oppression and exile. It’s about finding a way to wholeness and freedom. However, it takes the work of many to accomplish this. It takes perseverance and steadfastness. It takes the community joining together to rally against the yoke of evil.

One metaphor which I like to use is the Elijah cup which we place on our Seder table. Elijah represents hope for the future, the Messianic age when the world shall live in peace and harmony. No more hatred, no more violence. Traditionally, we start with a full cup of wine, open the door for Elijah, and Elijah is supposed to visit every home on the first two nights of Pesach (Passover.)

Elijah's Cup for the Seder
Elijah’s Cup for the Seder

At my Seder, I begin with an empty Elijah cup. Prior to opening the door for Elijah, we pass the cup to every person. Everyone pours some of his or her wine into the cup, as they say one thing they hope to do over the coming year to make the world a better place. By the time the cup goes around the table, Elijah’s cup is full. We, then, are the ones who will actually be responsible for bringing about redemption to our world.

Symbolically, this shows that if we each do our part, we ARE ABLE to bring our world to a state of perfection and wholeness.

So who is our anchor in troubled times? WE are our anchors.

Or, to paraphrase Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810. He was the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov – and was one of the most creative, influential and profound of the Chassidic masters and the founder of the Bratslover Chasidic sect.) – to be an anchor, to make this world a better place, you need to reach in three directions: inward, outward and up. You need to reach inward to find the best of yourself; you need to reach outward toward your community; and finally you need to reach up to God. If we reach in all three directions, we will be able to find wholeness and peace, and then truly, we will have found our anchor.

Shabbat Shalom.