On Divine Exile and the Sacred Act of Welcoming (Part II)

This post is a continuation of Part I.

It is my intention to now explore and explicate concrete ways in which we, as individuals and communities deeply concerned with the well-being of others and of our world at large, can transform the physical world and our sacred communities such that they become sanctuaries for the Divine Presence to dwell within.

When we study Torah day and night and take that Torah we learn to the streets, heeding the injunctions of our prophets and employing our religious language in the service of strengthening community, caring for others wholly and bettering our physical world, the Shechinah reenters our world once more. When we take the sacred pauses during our day for prayer that we need to care for ourselves so we can care for others more holistically, we allow the Shechinah to return to us. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, allowing our notions about how the world works to be upended, to be thrown out of our complacency, the Shechinah returns to our world. When we seek to encounter the other in a spirit of egalitarian partnership, understanding that they know far more about their lives than we ever will, the Shechinah returns to our world. When we think of accessibility and inclusivity as paramount values and not merely nice gestures, the Shechinah returns. When we start radically living out our sacred teaching that we are all, each and every one of us, created in the image of God, when we welcome all who wish to be amongst us and receive spiritual sustenance with open arms and not with fear or distrust, the Shechinah returns. When we truly seek to learn Torah from all, even difficult Torah, the Shechinah returns to our world. When we understand that the goal is to work towards a perfected world, admitting missteps along the way and seeking to do better, rather than retreating into homogeneous, comfortable spaces, the Shechinah returns. When we create holy communities in which culturally-specific markers of personal success are not held up as sacred values but instead center kavod habriot (human dignity) the Shechinah returns. When we stop having our committee meetings at which the question is asked, “what does God mean when God tells us 36 times to welcome the stranger?” the Shechinah is in our midst once again. When we stop bringing questions of this sort to committees at all, slicing and dicing them as though they were abstract and not concrete, the Shechinah returns to our world.

When we stop washing our hands of the suffering of others and have the courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and stop talking over one another and instead begin to dialogue from a place of sincere care and concern, the Shechinah returns to our world.

How are we to realize such a world? The world and all of its challenges are too momentous for us to handle individually. Too many of us don’t know how to begin. For so many of us, it is easier to be an armchair activist, looking at the incredible fractures in our world abstractly. Many of us might ask ourselves, “What can I do? I have no power here!”

It starts at home, amongst your own family, community and circle of friends. Fundamentally, it is about relationship building. When we have our disability awareness Shabbatot, or any Shabbat programming aimed at raising awareness about a marginal group in our midst, but we do so abstractly and don’t seek to build meaningful and most importantly genuine and reciprocal relationships with the other about whom we look to raise awareness, we remove the Shechinah further from our world. But when we encounter each and every human being with an orientation of acceptance for who they truly are, and seek to allow themselves to bring their whole self to our communities and texts, the Shechinah finds a home amongst us.

This task may seem too scary, and there is a legitimate fear of doing the wrong thing, a truly understandable and relatable fear. How ought we combat this? Approach is everything. Being vulnerable, not being afraid to say I don’t know, dedicating yourself to educating yourself about the needs of your constituencies are excellent starting points. Making it clear to all that you are there for them, that you, like the rest of us, are constantly striving to learn more and to do better by everyone. It is incredibly difficult to take a step back sometimes and realize that now is the time for those who haven’t had a voice to be heard. If the infrastructure and the education aren’t in place, it can be a real leap of faith to open your doors to those who haven’t found a home in your community in the past. Take that leap. The riches on the other side of that fear and uncertainty are well worth it!

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