The great American poet Maya Angelou thought that the angels looked like her paternal grandmother, Annie.
Her grandmother lived an extraordinarily difficult life during the Great Depression as a single black woman in the South, tending to two grandchildren and a son with multiple disabilities. Yet Maya remembers her grandmother clasping her hands behind her back, looking up at the distant sky and saying, “I will step out on the world of G-d.”
Inspired by this statement of her sacred mission, Annie began a long and difficult day taking care of others.
“She looked up as if she could will herself into the heavens,” remembers Angelou.
Because of her grandmother, Angelou grew into adulthood knowing that faith could give her strength to care for others even when her own burdens were heavy.
The Talmud teaches that whenever we see flaws in the world, even those not of our own making, we are obligated by Torah to restore balance and harmony. Like Maya’s grandmother, we are asked to step out on the world of G-d as we go about our daily tasks.
Says Rabbi Irving Greenberg:
Greatness lies at the faithful performance of whatever duties life places upon us, and the generous performance of the small acts of kindness that G-d has made possible for us. G-d does not ask us to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things, extraordinarily well.
Each of us has within us a G-d-given spark of creativity to bring order to chaos; beauty to ugliness. We have a contribution to make that will be left undone without us, an act of compassion that will be denied to the world if we suppress it. We are called to say “yes” when most people are saying “no” and to say “no” when most people are saying “yes.” We are invited to take this battered and weary world and put it on the anvil of life, forging it into a more human, more G-dly shape.
But there’s a catch. We can say no to G-d’s invitation to continue the work of creation. We can walk away. It’s within our power to refuse G-d and deny G-d the joy of finishing what G-d has begun.
Jewish tradition teaches us that the choice is ours.
If the sick are to be healed,
it is our hands that will heal them.
If the lonely and frightened are to be comforted,
it is our hands, not G-d’s, that will embrace them.
The warmth of the sun travels on the air,
but the warmth of G-d’s love
can travel only through each of us.
— Dorothee Soelle
Rabbi Peter S. Berg is the senior rabbi at The Temple. This column is part of an ongoing series by members of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.