Tisha B'av reminds us that we can mourn or we can act.
Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics was once asked, ''Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood? My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference - asking good questions -made me become a scientist!''
I was once at a day school doing a report on the students there. It was time for the morning services and everyone began to pray in Hebrew. About halfway through the service I asked a fourteen-year-old boy if he understood what he was saying. What he said next has stuck with me to this day.
In this week's Torah portion Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet and a sorcerer of sorts, is sent by the king of Moab to curse the Hebrews. On his way to curse the Israelites in their encampment Balaam is stopped by an invisible angel. At first Balaam's donkey is the only one who can see the angel. Balaam whips his donkey and eventually the angel reveals itself. There are many lessons we can derive from this story, however, one of the most important is that we cannot always see what is in front of us or what lies ahead. We need to rely on others sometimes and trust if the path ahead of us is safe or dangerous.
Can we pray to God for a Mercedes Benz? Earlier this week I had a meeting with a young woman who asked, "Are there acceptable and unacceptable things to ask God for in prayer?"