What a week.
I think it is safe to say that it has been an emotionally draining year, and the results have caused extreme reactions on all sides. A significant portion of the US are deeply concerned and even frightened at this very moment, while another portion–often less heard, especially in the Jewish communty–feels vindicated, elated and emboldened. This difference is also cause for concern, as both sides are remarkably challenged to recognize and acknowledge the experience of the other at this time. We may look at each other with disbelief and suspicion, and it understandable that healing and building together feels very far away.
I want to take a moment to share about two different aspects of the Jewish calendar that powerfully resonate with some of the challenge that lay before us.
The first is that this is the week of Parshat Lech-L’cha. This is the headquarters of chesed or loving-kindness. We begin to meet Abraham and learn clues about his life and dedication. Abraham is the symbol of caring for others in a non-judgmental, non-assuming and humble way. There are countless stories in the Torah and Midrash illustrating how far Abraham will go to embody loving-kindness and tend to the needs of others.
The second thing seems like a minor calendrical detail, but it is also compelling. November 8 fell this year on the 7th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, and this date is important as there was a minor shift in the language of daily prayers. On this date, in Israel we begin to ask for rain. At the end of Sukkot, two weeks earlier, we began to praise Gd for the rain that is to come, but now we begin to ask for it.
First of all, rain in the Jewish Tradition also symbolizes Divine care for humanity. Secondly, and more importantly for our discussion, this date is striking. Why should we begin to pray for rain now? This date is two weeks after the end of the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot. The Rabbinic Tradition taught us that if in Israel we begin to pray for rain at the end of Sukkot, all of our brothers and sisters that travelled from afar to join the celebrations in Jerusalem, will get stuck in the rain on their way home. Two weeks was the time that it would take a pilgrim to return to the fartherst Jewish communities in Babylon, and only when those folks had returned home would we begin to ask for rain.
This is a very powerful statement of caring for others, even at the possible expense of one’s own needs. The local farmers in Israel need the rains to begin as soon as possible, but they delay asking out of deference for their fellow Jews that live far away.
A major theme in the Jewish calendar this week is guiding us to develop our capacity for caring for someone else. The lack of civility and sensitivity to the other was particularly draining over this past year, reaching a climax this week. We are only moments after the election, and it is an invitation to begin the difficult work of healing. I think that we should first look into our own communities and those who are close to us, asking: how can I give more? How can I care more? Where have I not done everything I can to teach and model a life driven by loving-kindness? And only then should we look out to those with whom we disagree with and begin to practice loving-kindness there as well. Can we hear a different perspective? Can I hold someone else’s pain and frustration that brought us to this place?
You all know that this is the underlying message of all the work we do with Nesiya. For over 30 years, we have been building community that works hard at caring for others, not despite, but often because they are different from us. I find a ray of hope and inspiration that this most divise period in recent memory has come to its conclusion during this week. May we be blessed on this path of building to find strength and to encourage each other to grow and care for others! We’ve got lots of work to do, and lots of people to care for!