By Sarah Shapiro

…And what is the reason that He did not make it to rain [until the Sixth Day?] Because there was no man…to recognize the benefits of rains….And when Adam came…he prayed for them and they descended. — Rashi

Even things that seem to be evil—such as suffering, death, and temptation—appear to be so only when viewed in isolation, but in the total context of existence they can be seen as good, even very good. — The Hirsch Chumash

It is in their desire to destroy us that our salvation lies. — Rav Tuvia Weiss, shlit”a

“Tree of Life used to be just a synagogue my grandparents went to, that my Mom grew up in, that we would go to on high holidays. Anti-Semitism was something that happened in history, in other places. Today, I feel like it’s something different,” said Sophia Levin, 15, her voice breaking. “I am a different Jew today than I was yesterday.” — Oct. 28, 2018, NY Times, “Torrent of Gunshots Shifts Reality”

He Who sets the ear, does He not hear? —Tehillim

My sister Julia was always kind to me, throughout my childhood. Sometimes I’d see the older sisters or brothers of my friends bossing around, teasing, even tormenting their younger siblings. But not Julia. Known unofficially as the beauty of the family, a brilliant student consistently at the top of her class, held in high regard by teachers and of course by my parents, Julia was beloved even by her peers (and by me), in spite of such jealousy-provoking virtues.

I remember one of my other sisters telling me how so-and-so, an exchange student from Switzerland, had said of Julia: “I’ve never known anyone else who is at once so beautiful and also so kind.”


I was so proud of her. To my mind, she was perfect.

Appointed by the high school’s English faculty to serve in her senior year as editor-in-chief of the yearbook, Julia selected as that year’s theme a quote from the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran: “Say not that you have found the truth, but a truth.” Having puzzled over those words as deeply as I possibly could at that age—I was in elementary school—here I am, more than half a century later, visualizing that italicized line in the lower right-hand corner of the yearbook’s opening two-page spread. The black-and-white photograph that I associate with the quote (though I think it might have actually appeared elsewhere in the yearbook, not on the title page, or even in a different year altogether) was of one of the boys in 12th grade (the older brother of one of my other sister’s friends; I even remember his name,) standing dramatically aloof and solitary in a windblown field, under wide and empty skies. With one hand slipped casually into his jeans back pocket, teenager Teddy Thompson—in confrontation with an impersonal, unresponsive cosmos—was as cool, calm, and collected an existentialist as one could hope to find, and as indifferent to the universe as was the universe to him.

Anything my eldest sister presumably espoused or approved was something I took as a guidepost to my own future happiness. So though I didn’t yet have an ability to conceptualize such a thing—or the vocabulary to articulate for myself what I thought Gibran’s words meant—the inchoate message I took away with me nonverbally was this: To be smart and in-the-know, don’t believe in anything. Because there’s nothing there.

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