It is Valentine’s Day, and sometime between wiping little bums, folding infinite heaps of laundry, and scraping another uneaten peanut butter sandwich into the compost, my husband and I might exchange a token of our affection. We each bought the other socks. The tasks of living are so endless it is easy to forget we are bonded in love. But it is the underlying love that makes these daily indignities bearable.
Living daily in the boundaries of our mundane world, it can also be easy to lose one’s concept of G-d. Getting the oil changed and fixing the leaky roof don’t exactly fill the despairing with hope and the fearful with courage. This must be why so many of us encounter G-d in a blazing sunset, harvest moon, or soaring notes of a choir - undeniable reminders that there is more to life. This past year, our lives have become even more finite. We have been prevented from many of the experiences that seek to usher finite humans into the presence of the infinite and awesome.
During these hamster wheel days, I think about the many concepts of G-d in Judaism that implore us to put G-d in the commonplace. Consider the two types of interactions described by Martin Buber’s “I Thou” philosophy. My simple understanding is I-It relationships are transactional, utilitarian- the Uber ride of human interaction. In the I-Thou encounter, we relate to each other as authentic beings, without expectation, judgement, or objectification. While our lives are understandably full of I-It encounters, imagine the transformational power of giving more people the radical generosity of heart and mind Buber described.
When we enter the Temple sanctuary on Shabbat, the ner tamid reminds us that we are attempting to encounter G-d. While we are away from the Temple for a while longer, join me in applying the same audaciousness to our everyday encounters. Granting every person the dignity and sanctity of Thou is the beating heart of the entire Jewish enterprise. I’ll start in my home and surrender to listen and hear the unique and divine hearts of my family members... most likely while I’m folding socks.
At our Tu B'shvat Celebration, we created this poem:
There is no gift as lovely as a Tree
by the Temple Shalom Community
There is no gift as lovely as a Tree
Providing us life
Fruit for our being
Sticky maple syrup
sweet apple blossoms
Changing leaves provide
a home for animals
great heights for looking out
fallen branches make sturdy forts
Trees equal life!
wind blowing through their branches
cleaning the air
our earth's breath
my tree is a safe haven
for me when I am mad
for birds when they sing
catching the pretty snow
They share water with each other
and their life with us
useful long after they have fallen
living with us forever
Fran Ostendorf wrote an article about Jeff Rogg's December 9, Temple Shalom Zoom lecture. Read it here.
I go running six days of the week. I lace up for 6 or 8 miles in the early morning darkness, wearing a blinking LED vest that rivals the holiday lights on my route. Mostly, I pass the miles analyzing decisions I need to make at work. Sometimes I’ll have a thought I don’t want to forget. I stop, pull off my gloves, and peck out a note-to-self on my phone with frozen fingers. More often than not I never review these notes, but on a recent morning run I started thinking about Deyanu, and mile after mile I keep returning to my ambivalence with the 15 verses of this 9th century song.
I love Deyanu’s melody and its message of gratitude, but I pondered its insincerity. If G-d had parted the Red Sea but not led the Israelites across, would that really have been enough? If G-d had led the Israelites into the desert and let them starve, would that have been enough? If G-d had given the Israelites the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, but not established them as a nation, would that have been enough? As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m thinking about Deyanu in a more contemporary context. Is it enough that slavery was abolished? No. Is it enough that President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act? No. Is it enough that Black men earn 67 cents for every dollar earned by white men? No.
The Jewish concept of tikkun olam recognizes that Dayneu doesn’t tell the whole story. G-d’s creation is awesome, but unfinished. While Dayenu reminds us to be grateful for what is, tikkun olam tells us that what exists isn’t good enough. But we don’t need to choose between naive satisfaction or endless discontent. We can stand in wonder of all the beauty, love, and miracles in our lives, while working for a more just world. Dayenu is the beginning of the story, but not the end.
When we come together for our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat, join me in writing your own Dayenu. If we had a world without violence, that would be enough. If all people are treated fairly and equitably, that would be enough. If no child has to go to bed hungry, that would be enough. Of course not, it won’t be enough. But we are writing the story and it isn’t over yet. In 2021, join me in celebrating all that is miraculous and holy, while working together to bring the world closer to enough.
My oldest son Ben recently started reading bedtime stories to his younger brother. With one parent suddenly freed from this endless task, our evenings are calmer and I have the slightest bit more energy to attempt the rituals I imagine joyous Jewish families achieve regularly. I searched YouTube for Hashkeveinu, hit play, and watched our youngest son dance for the first time. Lay us down to sleep in peace, Adonai our G-d, and raise us up, our King, to life; spread over us the shelter of Your peace.
Sam swayed back and forth and eventually drifted to sleep while I thought about a sukkah of peace. A sukkah of peace is what I want for my children. Their lives should not be free from struggle, fear, pain, and sorrow, but I want my children to have peace in their hearts. I want them to be at peace with themselves, and use their self- assuredness to lift up those around them. I want them to draw strength and hope from the understanding that they are part of a 3,000 year old tradition and that their ancestors faced a frightening and uncertain future and did not let their hearts harden.
As the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzak Rabin draws near, I have been listening to Shir LaShalom, Song of Peace. So go and sing a song of Shalom, don’t whisper timid prayers. Go out and shout a song of Shalom, so everyone can hear...Don’t just say “A day will come,” go out and bring that day! This is an especially poignant message during the Days of Awe. Too often, I let my fear and anxiety manifest as cynicism instead of vulnerability, love, and work. This year, please join me in prayer and action to make peace a reality. Peace in our hearts and peace in the home. Peace in our country and peace among nations. Peace among all people and peace between humankind and all the world’s creatures and natural resources. Let the sound of the shofar stake a claim on your imagination and be a reminder of the strength within us to bring that day.