Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Quote for the Day

“Most men worry about their own stomachs, and other people’s souls. We all ought to be worried abut our own souls, and other people’s stomachs.” –Rabbi Israel Salantar

Can Faith Help Us Find Healing and Forgiveness in the Wake of the Trayvon Martin Case?

trayvon

As President Obama said, the jury has spoken. The case has concluded. One side won, and another side lost. Yet, no one is happy. A 15-year-old boy is dead. Grieving parents will never be the same. What now?

Some want to continue the conflict. Facebook and twitter are filled with words of vitriol and vengeance. Others, like Trayvon Martin’s parents, have conveyed their sadness and hope. They have turned to faith not in the name of anger. They have turned to God in the name of healing. This morning Trayvon Martin’s mom tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, God is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support.”

Amen. There is a time for conflict. There is a time for healing. Now is the time for healing. What insights and support can our faith give us?

1.Hold out for God’s comfort: Trayvon Martin’s mom tweet echoes the most famous words of the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

Among the most important and overlooked verses in this verse is “through.” To find God’s comfort, we have to walk through the valley of the shadow. We cannot jump over it. We cannot run around it. But we will get through it. On the other side of despair lies hope.

2. Reject vengeance: One of the extraordinary lessons of the Hebrew Bible is the beauty of reconciliation. In the Book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers leave him for dead. They tell their father a wild beast devoured him. 20 years pass. They meet him again. He has every reason to hate them. He has every reason to take vengeance upon them. He does not. He embraces them. Faith lifts us above revenge in the name of healing. 

3. Watch our language: The media exacerbates our differences. Conflict sells, and heated language generates conflict. If we are to find healing, we need to watch what we say.

Some of the post-trial comments by both sets of attorneys have generated further hostility. People of faith need to speak words that bring us together rather than drive us further apart. An inspiring example comes from Reverend Jacqueline Lewis in New York, who told her congregants on Sunday that Martin Luther King Jr. “would have wanted us to conduct ourselves on the highest plane of dignity.”

4. Express our convictions: Watching our language does not mean silencing our hearts. Reverend Lewis went on in her sermon to say “we’re going to raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy.” Respect does not mean acquiescence. The beauty of democracy is the place it gives us for constructive disagreement.

5. Look for the opportunity in tragedy: Whatever our feelings on the case, we can take this time as an opportunity for discussion. When the religious school year begins in September, I plan to talk about the case with my students. Justice and forgiveness are as much a part of faith as ritual and prayer.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

The Real Lesson of July 4th

interdependence

Independence is an American virtue. This country was built up by pioneers who left their familiar ways behind. They sought a new life free of the old dependencies. How do all the famous Western films end? With John Wayne riding off, alone, into the sunset.

Yet, independence is only half the story. Interdependence–shared sacrifice and responsibility–made America possible. George Washington would not have crossed the Delaware without his troops. The civil rights movement would not have succeeded if it were only about African Americans.

A saying printed on our currency captures this more complex truth: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of the many, one.” We are unique individuals who, together, form a stronger union.

The Smartest Man in the World Believed in Interdependence

When we acknowledge our interdependence, we recognize the influence others have on us. Albert Einstein captured this truth when he observed “A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have been received and am receiving.”

To picture this truth, imagine turning on a water faucet. It seems simple, but to get that glass of water, we waterdepend on plumbers, chemists, engineers, upon the manufacturers of pipes and spigots, and also on the people who build the reservoirs, water meters and generators.

One of the great achievements of the environmental movement is that it has helped make us more aware of the ethical and global implication of the work that goes into producing the food we eat, the coffee we drink and clothes we buy. We depend on others, and with that dependence comes a sense of responsibility.

As Einstein put it, “I must expert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have been received and am receiving.” Interdependence is built into creation, and recognizing it is critical to our survival.

Interdependence is Rooted in the Bible’s Creation Story

The Bible conveys this truth in the story of Adam and Eve. We have to be attuned to the original Hebrew to see it. When Adam awakens from his sleep and meets Eve he says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh: She shall be called woman: isha for she was taken from man ish.” (Genesis 2:23)

This is the first time the Hebrew words ish and isha are used. Before this verse, we had only heard the words Adam and Eve. Even though we use them as proper names in English, Adam and Eve are not personal names in Hebrew. They are the equivalent of John and Jane Doe.

“I” Cannot Exist Without “You”

The words ish and isha are more specific and meaningful. They connote a human with personality, character and depth. They cannot be used until the world has more than one person.

The Bible conveys this in a very subtle way. Adam calls himself ish only after he calls Eve isha. He has to pronounce Eve’s proper name before he can say his own. Ish cannot exist with isha. We cannot exist without one another. Or, as Martin Buber put it, we have to say “Thou” before we can say “I.”

In Judaism, there is no such thing as the totally independent, unattached individual. We are born into, and we gain our character and sense of self from the people and community to which we attach our lives.

On this July 4th, let us celebrate this interdependence.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Are You Two-Faced?

are you two-faced

The Hebrew languages contains an array of hidden meanings and insights. Rabbi Daniel Lappin probed many of these in his book Hidden Treasure.

One of the most intriguing is the word for face, panim. It is in the plural form. The “im” ending in Hebrew is the equivalent of adding an “s” in English. Yet face is not a plural word. It is singular. We only have one face.

Or Do We? 

Perhaps the Hebrew pluralized form conveys something about human nature. Perhaps we can understand “face” as more than a physical attribute. It is our way of experiencing of the world.

We can both love and hate. We give and take. We smile and we frown. To be “two-faced”–or three-faced or four-faced–is not to be duplicitous. It is to be human. 

How God Made All of Us Two-Faced

A stunning exploration of this idea is found in the work of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinker of the twentieth century, Joseph Soloveitchik. Soloveitchik pointed out that the Bible contains two accounts of the creation of human beings.

In the first telling we read “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness. Let him dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock animals, and all the earth, and every wild animal that walks the earth.’” (1:26)

This story highlights our dominance and majesty. We resemble God, and we dominate the natural world.

In Genesis chapter two, however, we read, “God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man became a living creature… God took man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till and to tend it.”  (2:7,15)

Here we find no reference to having been created in the image of God. We are not given dominion over the earth. Our primary task is “to till and tend it.”

Two Sides of One Truth

On the literal level, each of these cannot be true. On a spiritual and psychological level, however, they can be.

Each of us has a strong creative side, and a contemplative sacred side. Part of us wants  bigger, faster, stronger. The other part wants gentler, slower, more relaxing.

Part of us prepares endlessly for the future. The other savors the moment. Part of us wants control. The other part wants to be held in the hands of God. 

Soloveitchik’s insight is that the two creation stories in Genesis reflect two aspects of the same person. What seems like the creation of two separate being is really a story about the complexities of us all.

Our greatest challenge is to bring them into balance. Only then we can find harmony and happiness.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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