We are in the middle of the Days of Awe. As a good and obedient Jew, I should be lost in introspection and atonement. I should be performing acts of charity, repentance, and prayer. I should not be the only Jew blogger who hasn’t blogged at all during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Instead, I am stressing, unpacking, wrangling OCD in ways I haven’t had to in a long long time. Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings and I am facing so many of them that I don’t recognize much of anything right now. New city. New Job. New home. New roommates (any roommates for that matter. I’ve lived alone a long long time.). I worked on Rosh Hashanah and I will work on Yom Kippur.
Up until about 20 minutes ago, I felt guilty and horrible for the lack of time I have given to the Days of Awe this year. Then, searching for inspiration, I found this in a book of Yom Kippur readings:
“It occurred to me today that I might spend a whole year in shul, morning prayers, afternoon prayers, evening prayers, and never have a religious experience. A discouraging notion. Yet I must not ask for what cannot be given. Shul was not invented for a religious experience. In shul, a religious experience is an experience of religion. The rest is up to me.” Leon Wieseltier
Now don’t get me wrong. I miss shul, and plan on going soon. I miss prayer, and plan on scheduling it into my life. Shul is, for me, an important part of being Jewish. But these are days of miracle and wonder and they will be whether I go to shul or not. Religious experience is not only found in the midst of Yom Kippur prayer. It is not only found in the quiet moments of introspection and atonement. Religious experience comes in the moments you least expect it – for me, it came reading a quote about not finding religious experience. Then, at that moment, I felt close to God.
I knew that God understood.
God understands busy chaotic lives. God understands OCD and worry and stress. God understands moving and unpacking and being afraid of all the new beginnings.
Today, amidst the chaos and craziness, I am being the best Jew I know how to be. Tomorrow, I will attempt to be the best Jew I can be. And the day after and the day after. This is what God asks of us. This is what the Days of Awe are about – recognizing our failings and trying to atone for them. But life is not about self-flagellation and perhaps one of the things we should all atone for this Yom Kippur is not being as understanding of our own failings as God is.
I am packing this week for the big move from one city to another. We all know it – packing is a huge pain. No matter how hard you try to be organized and labeled – there are always boxes full of random stuff that doesn’t go with anything else. The bags of wine corks from important events, the drawer full of batteries that you are pretty sure might still work, and the occasional glitter pen that you find under the bed all get thrown in one big box that will be sorted out at the other end of the move.
But there is an upside to packing and moving and it’s this: it’s a great chance to purge.
Packing and moving are chances to let go – not just of the capitalistic excess you have accumulated while you lived in a certain place, but also of all of the junk memories that plague us when we are faced with them daily.
It’s been an odd experience. I’m not usually a person of spontaneous prayer. I love Hebrew. I love my prayer book. I have trouble finding the words to talk to God, so having something already written is incredibly helpful. Pre-written prayer isn’t the end, but it is a door into a conversation. But as I am packing and preparing to move, I have found myself talking to God a lot. Not big in-depth conversations. Little ones. Thanks for this memory. Thanks for helping me through this. Packing has become a litany of gratitude for the time I have spent here. It’s also been a chance to say goodbye to the baggage I have carried these three years. Memories of arguments and breakups, of fires in the kitchen, of wounds and guilt – God and I have been hashing these out too.
I’m sure that packing and purging aren’t the end to my baggage. Nothing is ever that simple. But they have been a way to let go of guilt and pain I didn’t even know that I was carrying around. Something about the physicality of the work has allowed a spiritual place to open up that I wasn’t even aware of.
I wonder if we would be spiritually healthier if we could simulate this experience, if once a year we cleaned and purged. Without actually moving, could we remove the excess memories that live in our homes with us? Could the physicality of a spring clean be a doorway into spiritual openness if we were intentional about it?
Could it at least get us through something we all hate to do in a way that is a little less painful?
In the past twenty-four hours, the North Carolina House and Senate have passed Amendment 1, which will go to the vote in 2012. This amendment, called (by some) the Anti-LGBT Marriage Amendment, damages more than just the LGBTQ people living in North Carolina. Not only does this amendment bar same sex marriages, but it also prohibits the recognition of any sort of domestic legal union outside of the bonds of heterosexual marriage. It has the potential to impact domestic violence protection for unmarried couples, child custody and visitation, end-of-life directives, and domestic partnership benefits for public employees.
I didn’t really think it would pass the House vote last night. I certainly didn’t think it would pass the Senate vote today. I just kept thinking to myself – we will not take this step. We will not begin again the process of stripping people of their rights. Not just LGBTQ people. Everyone.
I don’t know if I am stupid or just naïve but I didn’t really think it would happen. I believe in a different world, one ruled by hesed –a Hebrew word that encompasses love, mercy, race, and compassion all in one. It’s a difficult love that surpasses just those we know. It’s a love that clothes Adam and Eve, despite the hurt God must have been feeling at their betrayal. It’s a love that reaches out to help abusers as much as it helps the abused. It’s a causeless love that means even strangers are encompassed into our care and mercy. After all, Torah makes clear that God loves the stranger, the foreigner, the newcomer (Deuteronomy 10). We, in the image of God, are called to do the same.
I am appalled by this bill. It does not live into the loving kindness that I believe God expects of us.
But I am appalled by something else as well. I’ve been reading some of the blog comments about the bill. I’ve been watching what people on Facebook have been saying. Here are some of the ones that really stand out:
“I hope all the people who voted yes are prepared to take fans to Hell with them.”
“You will die and go down as evil men supporting an evil bill.”
“Satan is waiting for you.”
Don’t get me wrong. I pray that this bill fails in the 2012 vote. I pray that every person in North Carolina fights to make sure that this bill passes into history as nothing more than a temporary bit of insanity. We must fight it.
But we cannot fight it with curses, insults, and the use of religion as a weapon. We must not fight with these tools. We are fighting for the right to love, to love openly and with commitment and with dignity. What does our fight mean if we use weapons that are dirty, degrading, and hate-filled? If we believe in a world filled with the spirit of God, if we believe in a world in which loving, compassionate, merciful kindness can rule, then must not love, compassion, and kindness be the arsenal with which we fight?
I beg you – fight this amendment. Vote. Talk about it. Do everything you can to make sure that we do not allow basic human rights and dignities to be stripped. But remember, we are called to love. We are called not only to love those who agree with us, because that is just so so easy, but to love those with whom we disagree in the most fundamental ways. That is the hard work of God, and it’s the work that will bring the love we are fighting for to life.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.
Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name.
This is the beginning of the Mourner’s Kaddish, one of the most beautiful and moving prayers I have ever found.
It is a prayer said in memory of those we have lost. It is a prayer more of of America should be paying attention to.
In the midst of death and sorrow, Judaism turns to a prayer that never mentions death. It never mentions anger or rage or revenge. It never mentions judgment. It mentions peace. It mentions life. It mentions the praising of God for what has been given to the children of Israel and to all the world.
I’ve been thinking of the Kaddish often as 9-11 approaches. I wonder who, if anyone, is saying the Kaddish for the Iraqi soldiers or the al-Qaeda. I wonder who is saying the Kaddish for Osama bin Laden. I wonder if anyone remembers a story about him where he gave a child a toy, where he was kind to a woman on the street, where he drew a beautiful picture that brought joy into the world.
We, as a collective people, have vilified Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to the point where we can forget that they are people. They have, for many, become faces so evil that there is no humanity left. We forget that they too worshiped and prayed. We forget that they strove towards God in the best ways they knew how.
I am ashamed.
Our national grief has made us monsters incapable of forgiveness. It has turned us away from the glory and joy of acknowledging God that is found in the Kaddish and towards hate and vengeance. We are festering, rotting – being eaten alive by fear, distust, and anger that lives in the collective American heart.
What happened to forgiveness? What happened to turning the other cheek? Our sins do not go with us unto death. God is better than that. We have defended. We have attacked. Now, it is time to find God within ourselves and heal. We must forgive. We must be willing to love enough to pray for forgiveness for our enemies.
We have an opportunity to show the world that we are better than they think we are. We have a chance, this 9-11, to talk of peace and forgiveness, instead of celebrating the ‘victory’ of Osama’s death.
I will wake up that morning and say morning prayers. I will finish the traditional ones with the Mourner’s Kaddish, as I always do. But I will not end there. I will pray for the soul of Osama, for the souls of every al-Qaeda member, for every innocent victim of every attack. And I will pray for the souls of all Americans, that we might find healing and forgiveness in our hearts, that we may heal from the rot that has taken over our souls. And I will pray with the words of one of the great prophets, as Muhammad taught us to pray:
“O God, forgive our living and our dead, those who are present among us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our males and our females. O God, whoever You keep alive, keep him alive in Islam, and whoever You cause to die, cause him to die with faith.O God, do not deprive us of the reward and do not cause us to go astray after this. O God, forgive him and have mercy on him, keep him safe and sound and forgive him, honour his rest and ease his entrance; wash him with water and snow and hail, and cleanse him of sin as a white garment is cleansed of dirt. O God, give him a home better than his home and a family better than his family. O God, admit him to Paradise and protect him from the torment of the grave and the torment of Hell-fire; make his grave spacious and fill it with light.”