A short time ago I was attempting to lock the gates that provide entry into my apartment from the elevator. With my current usual fumbling self, the keys – precious as they are – fell from my hand. There is a very small opening between the edge of the elevator and floor of my apartment, so small that one hardly takes notice of it. Nevertheless, my keys found that aperture and with a thud came to rest at the bottom of the elevator shaft, completely inaccessible to me.
Now if I would have attempted to throw my keys towards this space hundreds of times I would not have been able to hit that exact spot between the elevator door and my apartment. But my keys apparently had a mind of their own and headed directly and very accurately towards this space in order to descend to the bottom of the elevator shaft.
Naturally, I had to call the elevator company and have them send someone out to somehow retrieve my keys at the bottom of the elevator shaft. I still do not know how that service man was able to do so but I can happily report that I am again in possession of all of my necessary keys. This misadventure of mine set me thinking about keys and locks generally and in a Jewish context specifically. Like everything else in life, one does not realize the importance of keys until one has lost them.
In a physical sense, keys allow us to progress, to go where we wish, to leave or to enter spaces which otherwise are barred to us. All human progress is based on unlocking previously closed doors of science, technology, politics and the realm of imagination.
The key to allow us to gain entry into these areas is the gift of human creativity, the ability to dream and to imagine what is previously unknown and not present in our current life. The gift of prophecy, which was given to the Jewish people for millennia, is what has allowed the Jewish people to believe, and in our time to realize, that somehow the forced exile of the Jewish people would end and that there would be an independent and sovereign state established once again in the land of Israel.
Without that key of prophetic promise, the locked doors of the exile would never have been able to be opened for us and for our generations. Hope, optimism and faith were and are the keys to Jewish survival and accomplishment. Despair and a feeling of hopelessness always mark the road to ruin for individuals, societies and nations.
Since the problems of life many times can be overwhelming in scope and in intensity, it is quite understandable that the keys that could help unlock those issues are temporarily lost at the bottom of the elevator shaft of life. Human greatness and the national will and strength of the Jewish people are based on retrieving those keys and progressing onwards with hope and fortitude.
The Torah identifies these keys for us. Love and belief in God, appropriately compassionate behavior towards other human beings, observance of ritual and an optimistic forward-looking frame of mind adorn the keychain of Judaism and Jewish life.
These keys are too precious and necessary to be abandoned or lost. The rabbis have taught us in the Talmud that the questions that a person faces are threefold: 1) Have you dealt honestly and kindly with your fellow human being? 2) Have you made Torah study, knowledge and observance a regular part of your routine in life? 3) Have you continued to hope optimistically for salvation, redemption and a better world?
These are the keys to Jewish life and continuity throughout the ages. We should make every effort not to lose these keys and even if, somehow, they have descended down the elevator shaft, we have to make every effort to retrieve and restore them. There is no greater feeling of helplessness and frustration then to be locked out of one's own home because one has lost the keys that would have allowed entry.
Much of the Jewish world today is unfortunately without keys. We thrash about trying to find a way in to our past and future. We should be comforted that lost keys eventually do turn up but usually it requires a dedicated search and even technical and educational help. But there is no greater feeling of security than having one's keys residing safely in one's pocket.