Friday, November 15, 2013

Wrestling with God - In Honor of Superman Sam, Ethan Kadish, and Blake Ephraim

In Honor of Samuel "Superman Sam" Sommer, Blake Ephraim, Ethan Kadish and their Families

I thought that after Typhoon Haiyan brought devastation to the Philippines, and at a time when I am contemplating traveling to Indianapolis for a special fundraiser for Ethan Kadish, the boy who was struck by lightning while at camp this summer about whom I spoke on YomKippur, I might talk about how we react to forces of nature in our tradition even though that topic isn’t connected to our Torah portion this week. Then this week, two things happened.

The first is that I found out that earlier in the month, a sixteen year old active cheerleader from Kansas City with whom our Goldman Union Camp campers have attended camp named Blake Ephraim, suffered a debilitating stroke, cause as of yet unknown. Her sister was in the bunk next my daughter this summer. A sixteen year old active kid with no known risk factors having a stroke?

The second was the revelation this week that the eight year old son of friends from rabbinical school, Samuel “Superman Sam” Sommer, whose parents have chronicled his year and a half long battle with Leukemia and his recent bone marrow transplant through an inspirational blog kept daily,, has now lost that battle.

The posting on Wednesday from Sam's mother Phyllis that announced Sam’s relapse made untold numbers around the world burst into tears:
We are so desperately heartbroken and filled with sadness.
Sam has relapsed.
His ninja leukemia is so very strong... There is no cure.There is no treatment... [The doctors] are sad too. Terribly, horribly sad.
There is no cure.There is nothing they can do to cure our boy.
520 days ago we were told "your son has cancer." I never thought I could feel more pain than that day. I was wrong. He still feels well. We don't know how long that will last.We're going to "suck the marrow out of life" as long as we can.
Quite literally and figuratively.Capitalize on his good days.Fill them with joy and blessing and delight.Stick his feet in the ocean and his head in the clouds.Fill his days with wonder and love.
We have to tell Sam. Although we think he knows….he is wise.We have to tell David and Yael.These are the tasks that consume us today.How do we deliver such darkness into their shiny happy world?Love. We just remind them how much we love them. Over and over...
I can’t read yesterday’s post from the blog, entitled simply "Tears," out loud. It relays Sam’s thoughts after being told that his cancer is back and that there is nothing that can be done. The first line of that posting is more than enough, “I don’t want to die.”

Devastating. Heartbreaking.

We live in a world where it is now possible to repair DNA, to use stem cells for a wide variety of amazing, even miraculous, outcomes. We can restart hearts, fertilize human eggs, implant them, and turn them into wonderful children. We know and understand so much more, vastly more, than our ancestors did. But they understood something probably better than we do because they experienced it more often in their lives than we do in ours; 

sometimes things happen that we 
cannot control, 
cannot prevent, 
cannot change and 
cannot comprehend.

In just a couple of weeks, the night before Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the first night of Chanukah, the Festival of Light. Chanukah is a celebration of hope and light amid darkness. As we gaze upon the bright flames of the candles, we will focus on their light and remember wondrous events involving our ancestors that have enabled us to reach this day. Let us also think of and be thankful for those “miracles” that happen every day in our lives. Let us appreciate what we have and what we lack that we’re happy we do not have.

This year, I’m going to pray for a few big miracles as I think of my friends and their loved ones, give thanks for the bright lights in my life right now, and cherish those flames etched in my memory that will forever give me light.

With all of this, I indeed found myself thinking of this week’s Torah portion. In it, the angel tells Jacob that his name “will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for [he had] wrestled with beings divine and human, and prevailed.” This week, my colleagues, friends, and I are wrestling with issues divine and human. There is no battle in which to prevail, but we’re certainly struggling and I think living up to the name of our people, Israel, a name which means wrestling with God.

May this Shabbat bring comfort to the heartbroken and peace and well-being into houses far and near.

Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Jim Egolf said...

Thank you

Reb Scott said...

I want to echo our colleague's simple, Thank You. Well said, Jim and David, this is a heartfelt, insightful and beautiful posting…thank you again.

Reb Scott said...

Thank you, David, for a posting that is insightful, compassionate and beautifully written.