Posted on August 20th, 2012 | Filed under Call for Submissions, Challenges, Community, Featured, Leadership, News, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Belief, community, ethics, Faith, hate groups, Judaism, morality, Peace, pluralism, politics, Questions, Religion, Shabbat, shooting, Sikh Temple, Violence
In reflecting on how the Jewish people have been able to survive throughout the ages, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes, “The question is: From where can these people draw the strength to renew their dream again and again? The answer of Jewish tradition is: Give people just a foretaste of the fulfillment, and they will never give it up."
For Jews, this taste of paradise is Shabbat. Each week we set aside 25 hours in which we see the world—and ourselves—as perfect. There is nothing to be fixed or altered. We are completely whole and satisfied with life. We eat good food, connect with friends and family, spend time in nature, and rest from our workday lives. It is said, in our rabbinic texts, that Gd promised us olam haba (lit. the world to come) if we observe all of the commandments. When the people asked Gd what this olam haba was, Gd replied, “This is Shabbat.” Shabbat is both our fleeting taste of the world perfected, and our practice for making this paradise a lasting reality.
This practice is not only the way we as Jews sustain ourselves, it is how anyone dissatisfied with the world as it is visions and creates the world as they imagine it should be. In the fallout from the tragic Sikh Temple shooting, our attention has been drawn to the culture and practices of the neo-Nazi skinhead groups that the shooter belonged to.
Recently, the New York Times published an article about the white power music scene of which the shooter was a part. Through concerts and festivals, neo-Nazi groups are about to reinvigorate their base and cultivate new members by giving members a taste of the world as they imagine it. The article reads, “Organizing the events as ‘white-only, members-only’ spaces is a calculated effort to create collective experiences where, at least momentarily, adherents can experience the world they idealize: where enemies of whites are vanquished and Aryans rule.”
Greenberg writes that the goal of Shabbat is to create “a reality so complete and absorbing” that we are reconnected to our faith and recommitted to working, during the rest of the week, to bringing about the world we imagine. So too, the goal of festivals like Summer of Hate is to provide people with an experience of immersing themselves in the paradise they seek in order to energize them to continue working to bring this world into reality.
The future these hate groups are striving toward is not only antithetical to my vision of a redeemed world, but is also one that seeks to eliminate me from existence. And yet, I find a strand of our shared humanity in the fact that we both feel a lack in the present and a yearning towards the future, however opposite those futures may be.
I may not be able to change the orientation of these hate groups or affect their vision of paradise. But I can use their vision and mission as a means to examine my own idea of olam haba. Though I am not filled with hate or vengeance as many in these groups are purported to be, if I am really honest with myself there is also a part of me that imagines the world to come as filled with people like me.
If what “paradise” means is a place where there is no fighting, challenge, disappointment, or struggle, then it seems to follow that we would all have to be of the same mind, share the same beliefs, morals, and priorities. And there is a part of my Shabbat practice that is about being among people who share and reflect back to me those values. Shedding light on this thread of belief that rests somewhere in my consciousness has allowed me to reevaluate the Eden I seek and the Shabbat practices that prepare me for this future.
The idea of living as though an ideal reality were true is very powerful. Each week as we welcome Shabbat we sing from our liturgy, “sof ma’asei b’machshevah techilah.” Of this line the Hasidic master Rebbe Nachman of Brestlov explains that this verse teaches us that contained within any final action is the original thought. In order to move an idea from a state of potentiality to a state of actualization we must see the end result in our mind and continually work to bring these images to life.
The image that I seek to bring to life is not one of a stagnant world in which we are all alike. Rather it is a world of healthy struggle and beautiful differences that ebbs and flows between moments of perfection and periods of change. And the truth is that no matter what group of people we surround ourselves with, be they seemingly similar to ourselves or not, the fact that we are each unique individuals means that differences will always arise. Shabbat, then, is not about shutting off from those ideas, beliefs, or people that challenge us, but is rather about tapping into a sense of gratitude for the dynamism of life that comes from these differences.
As the novelist Arundhati Roy said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” May this world be one in which we celebrate differences and seek out our shared humanity such that violence becomes a distant memory and hate an emotion of the past.
Image from NASA/JPL via Wikimedia Commons