RABBI’S LETTER FOR HESHVAN-KISLEV . NOV-DECEMBER 2018
The Fire and the Shooting Next Time. An anti - Apocalyptic Message about the Current Disasters.
This is a tough month, as you well know to sound optimistic about the state of the World and our Country. It’s a horrible season, considering the first mass shooting of Jews in a synagogue, and many other mass shootings. And on top of that, as a mini whirlwind of devilish fires emerged with terrible alacrity and shock, we are presented with a negative Divine wind, arising from the results of climate change. At this writing dozens are dead and hundreds missing in the Camp Fire of Northern California, and the two significant forest fires of Southern California. Many of us have friends whose homes in Malibu and surroundings have been destroyed. The events of the past week have triggered my own trauma of the Oakland/Berkeley hills fire of 1991 in which my wife and I packed up our house for flight, lest the enormous flames descend from the hills and threaten our home in Berkeley near campus.
The Rabbis of Old, our Hazal (Hachamim, Zichronom L’vracha, Our Sages, may their Memories be a Blessing) would have considered these signs of the times, as Hevlei Mashiah, the birthpangs of Messiah, a harbinger and forshpeice of the coming Redemption. They were looking for redemption in the ashes of destruction, foretelling great times from awful events such as war, famine and earthquakes. And oh yeah , California has all of it. Oregon is more fortunate, in the current “climate” since it has leit has a bit less of a draught, less of the critical environmental factors that contribute to disasters waiting to happen.
Are there lessons here? Yes. And as we pray to God to stop gun violence, to stop the horrible fires, the Tosefta (companion to the Mishnah of late Antiquity) teaches us that a vain prayer to the Holy One is to just sit by and pray as if there is nothing we can do while in fact, we CAN…we must act, if we can, if we are able and willing to change the course of history…in a sense to “bend” the Will of God through our active protest and concerted efforts.. And the cynics among us observe that mentally challenged people who hate, which is blamed by some psychologists on the current state of the world, will find a way to get a weapon, since a weapon is so readily accessible to folks in the USA today. The cynics (or realists?) among us will point to the inevitable climate change of the planet and poor forest management policies and growth of vegetation from the rainy season and claim that there is little we can do in the face of the manifestation of these natural forces.
But the Jewish Voice, the Kol of Conscience and Action, sets the agenda of Kavvanah and intention, of thoughtful reasonable action and tackles these two current hemispheres of disaster and says, no, we can change things, as the Prophets of Old tackled the crisis of their day, the optimistic voices in a democracy stand up and vote and act – for a reduction in our carbon footprint, and new more thoughtful forest practices…and better preparation for disaster, fast moving fires …
Our Rabbis had no experience in the Middle East of these types of fires and thus few Rabbinic writings include them in the list of the convulsions of the day. So we cannot draw on classical Jewish law and literature to guide us, but only the latest science that prepares us for the new “abnormal” as Gov. Jerry Brown has argued. We must read and study science and take measures to live with lots of fire and smoke. Don’t rescue the Torah Scrolls from a fire if it clearly endangers your life, but if there is a chance….then by all means (re: the rescue of the Scrolls by a SoCal Rabbi during the Woolsey fire)
Our Rabbis give us a little more guidance about the sale and proliferation of weapons in antiquity (don’t sell swords on Shabbat, don’t carry weapons, don’t take on sword dealing as a living…etc.) Our ancestors were largely deprived of weapons, and gave little thought to such activities because they were disempowered and deprived of means of self defense until the modern era.
Nihilism is never part of the Jewish world view and violates our essential trust in HaShem and the beneficent unfolding of the Universe. We must never accept the fatal conclusion that humanity is devolving and self-destructing. This utter cynicism is never part of the Jewish understanding of autonomy and the essential goodness of humankind. Clearly the magnified sinful and horrible actions of the few might lead us to the opposite conclusion. I hope that the millennial generation and the emergent women leaders in this country and around the world can lead us out of this mess. From what I see now, women leaders are creating a new more equitable and just reality in this country.
And where is God in this? In one Rabbinic text a cynic questions “Let Din v’Leit Dayan — there is no Law and no Judge”..and in these times we might ask: Who indeed is in charge? It appears as though God has left it — destiny, in our hands.. Oy. and YES!
Where is God in this? In my experience, the Benevolent Deity can be discovered in the minutiae of the moment and in conscious presence in our lives. Every day, even the most challenging personally and politically, try to find room for gratitude practice. As Buber taught us, God is everywhere we let God in.
In Parshat Va Yetze, the parasha of our recent Bar Mitzvah Joe Riku Royce and my beloved first born daughter, Maya, Jacob makes a deal with God, after his dream of the ladder. If you provide me with my needs, you will become my God. In this parasha Jacob begins his struggle with the Divine, a defining struggle, culminating with the wrestling at the Yabbok in chapter 32. His name is changed, and he becomes our Eponymous ancestor. He struggles with God for the sake of Heaven, for God, and for the Godly spirit within him. The Trickster becomes something more in that moment, and for us, Jacob’s transformation is our Transformation. We become the Tifferet Ancestor, the one who balances the Hesed of his Grandfather Avraham with the Gevurah of his father Isaac. May we also learn that balance in the face of destruction and disaster. And may we call on the Eternal Source of Strength to keep us Going, supporting each other on this Journey of Trials, Distractions and Joy. Ken Yehi Ratzon. In a world that has apparently decided to lose its Mind, be more kind, more conscious, more peaceful, more loving. May it be so.