Posted on May 1st, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Featured, Intra-Faith, Leadership, Learning, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Belief, community, consumer culture, ethics, Faith, Formation, God, Hope, identity, Israel, Judaism, morality, Peace, pluralism, politics, questioning, Religion, seminary, tolerance, transformation, Violence, war
The waters of the Sea have parted and we have made it through on dry ground. We are relieved, elated, exhausted, anxious to see how the next part of our journey will unfold. Having left slavery, we now find ourselves in the process of figuring out how to live with choice and responsibility, how to come together in community, and how to bring Gd into our midst. We remember the oft-repeated phrase that got us here, “Let My people go,” but likely forget the end of the sentence, “so that they may serve Me.” We made it through, isn’t that enough?
The period of Counting the Omer (we count 49 days from the second day of Passover to Shavuot) in which we currently find ourselves is a reminder that the road between redemption and revelation is long and winding. We must move through the process of celebrating our freedom, accepting responsibility for our freedom, and fully inhabiting our freedom to come into right relationship with Gd and with one another. It is this path that brings us to the foot of Mount Sinai, ready to accept Torah and a covenant with Gd and the Jewish people.
It seems only fitting, then, that two other holidays occur in this period between Passover and Shavuot. Just as soon as we’ve put our matzah away and finished the last of the macaroons, Yom Ha Zikaron (Israeli Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) are just around the corner. While for many North American Jews observance of these holidays is straightforward--mourning on Remembrance Day, rejoicing on Independence Day--there are also communities for whom observance of these days has become a topic of heated debate.
We find that we are all on the same journey from freedom to revelation, but we each have very different ideas of how to get from the Sea to the Mountain. These two holidays, while particular to Israel, tug on the emotional chords of many North American Jews: our allegiances, our fears, our passions, our sense of peoplehood, our visions and dreams, our image of Gd.
It has been a struggle to figure out how to observe these holidays in community. With the taste of freedom beginning to fade from our tongues, our differences cause us to lash out at one another. Anger and fear are triggered in us such that a conversation about how and why to observe is no longer possible. Quickly, the choice becomes to retreat into our own camps, or to participate in an observance that violates our core beliefs. Our hearts pump faster, our muscles tense, and we prepare for a war of ideology and words.
Some feel that Yom Ha Zikaron is set aside specifically to mourn the death of Israelis who have been killed in service or because of terrorist attacks and that Yom Ha Atzmaut is a day for pure rejoicing in the establishment of the modern state of Israel.
Others feel that the Day of Remembrance is a time to mourn losses on all sides, including Palestinians, and that Israel’s Independence Day cannot be celebrated with full joy because of the Occupation. Within and beyond these rudimentary statements are many complex and varied viewpoints, each with its own particular nuance, each articulated with conviction and passion.
This time of Omer counting is an opportunity for us to discover what it really means to prepare ourselves for encountering Gd and for receiving Torah. Rabbinic tradition holds that every Jewish person, including those of all future and past generations, was present at Sinai. Midrash elaborates to tell us that when Gd spoke to us at Sinai, each of us heard Gd according to our own capacities (Yalkut Shimoni: Yitro 286).
At Sinai, Gd spoke to each and every one of us, and Gd spoke slightly differently to each one, depending on what we were capable of hearing. Perhaps what it means to prepare ourselves for Sinai, then, is to learn to see each person as a vessel of Gd's words—those with whom we agree and stand in solidarity as well as those whom we passionately oppose. Looking inward, we understand that the voice of Gd that we hear reflects our own limits and aptitude.
The truth of Gd, then, is a truth of multiplicity. Each of us possesses a piece of the puzzle that is the Mystery of all Existence. This year, may the counting of the Omer remind us of this truth. May the repetitive nature of marking each day be a meditation in cultivating presence and curiosity towards those who think differently than we do. In this way, may we move, together, from redemption to revelation.
image: the Providence Lithograph Company via Wikimedia Commons