Tuesday, January 27. 2015
I've always looked forward to Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, when we read Shirat HaYam from Parashat Beshalach. The Song at the Sea convolves so many ideas fundamental to Judaism: God's power over nature, the real and symbolic importance of water, our redemption from slavery. It also celebrates the conquest of our enemies and subsequent punishment. The haftarah read on this Shabbat is the Song of Deborah, which also celebrates the military victory over our enemies.
I love the focus on song, I love how this is a time to remember the outpouring of emotion which can only be effected through song. But, reading the words, I am saddened by the exaltation of strength, power and violence. I am embarrassed by the translation which revels in the terror visited upon the foes of our ancestors. The Tanakh is preoccupied with dominance and conquest, and peace is an afterthought.
Perhaps this is how it must have been in order to insure the continuation of Israel, the people, the nation. Somewhere along the line the rabbis recognized that Judaism must shift its focus from dominance to peace. The ultimate goal is not conquest, and peace does not imply the servitude of another nation (as in Deuteronomy Chapter 20). The experience of the Diaspora was humbling: the rest of the world would not be drowned by God although at times it may seem as though our enemies are everywhere. Peace with Egypt was not secured by the drowning of Pharoah's armies. Rather, we were given a temporary reprieve until we could find a way to make peace. Must we fight to defend ourselves? Yes, but that is not enough.
We have not yet found that way to peace. At times, it appears some Jews are stuck in the Biblical era, hoping to return to the (short-lived) prominence of David. However, my discomfort with the past leads me to a profound thankfulness for the present. Judaism has, indeed, evolved. We are not being pursued across the Sea of Reeds and we need not hope for the vanquishing of our enemies. Our lesson from living dispersed in the world is precisely to make peace throughout the world. Destroying our enemy does not make peace. It may provide a temporary respite, but ultimately we must come to a common understanding of how to live together. Let us join in that search for peace, a peace which goes beyond Shirat HaYam.
Friday, January 23. 2015
The 49 Sophismata of Richard Kilvington was a medieval document which attempted to more precisely describe the perception of motion and being. While I was studying this document in a philosophy class of 4 students many years ago, I was profoundly bored. However, I remember it and the professor so clearly. What does it mean for an object to be in the process of moving - is it in a continuing state, or a completed state?
You can see why this might be pretty tiresome. I got one thing out of this: in a job, when you're going, you're gone. That is, once you are in the process of leaving, many people consider you to have already left. You are no longer relevant in the same way you were before. And that is the state in which I find myself. I will be leaving my position at the end of June. Not catastrophic. Not unusual. I have time to find another position. Yet it has been very difficult for me to accept this "change of state." In reality, I continue to perform my job as I have always done - with energy, passion and professionalism - but something is now missing, and I have tried to find out what it is that has now changed.
Ownership. It is the difference between a contract worker and one on salary. The difference between a part-time cantor and full-time one. The difference between someone who has a stake in the long-time success of an organization and a community, and one who is simply filling the need for today. Once you have been told, or you have decided, that you will be leaving, it is no longer your congregation. For a short time, you might have believed that your fate was tied to the fate of the community. Now, that belief is gone.
There is a strong connection between my trivial situation of leaving Las Vegas, and the profound story of the exodus which we are currently reading in the Torah this week (parashiyyot Vaera, Bo, and Beshalach). What would it feel like to be an Israelite in Egypt knowing that soon, soon you would be leaving. You never thought of leaving before. For hundreds of years this was your home. You might have disliked your life, but you owned it. Now, as leaving becomes real, you are no longer part of this place. Still there, yet your relationship to it has changed.
We all go through this. It is a human condition - perhaps a condition of being - that change implies a loss. When we change our place, we must recognize a different relationship with our past. Even thinking of the place from which we leave as a "past" requires a change. The story of the exodus is the story of every person, leaving where you were and redefining where you are.
Richard Kilvington would have said, when you're going, you're gone.
Late for the Sky
Thursday, January 8. 2015
Shabbat is coming once again and once again it is an opportunity to remember the value of peace. The attack on the journalists in France reminds us of the regular and persistent violence around us. But Shabbat is just as regular and even more persistent. Whether we feel like it or not, it comes. That is one of the advantages of the calendar - regardless of our state of mind, it is.
Another song for Shabbat, or any day, to remind us that wherever we are we must remember the goodness of being.
Sunday, January 4. 2015
There is a balance one must strike between remembering the old, and creating the new. This is our chance to create a new year. So, how much should we assess the past, remember the good and the bad, and let it guide our creation? The true act of creation - the one which we revere in religion - is creation ex nihilo: creating something from nothing. We don't do that. We always start from something. Now we're starting from 2014. We might want a blank canvass for our painting, but we get one with some smudges on it, perhaps a little paint from our last masterpiece, a fingerprint or two.
I'm going to see my canvass as a window, a clearing. It has a frame, it is not unbounded, but it is open. Air will come in, and light, and, if I want, I can step through it - yes, right into my creation. I can look back if I want, but I might turn into a pillar of salt. Or, I might see Amalek behind me. Going forward, perhaps there will be a wilderness, long years of little water, but then there is the promise of milk and honey. Perhaps, in 2015.
(Page 1 of 1, totaling 4 entries)