I yearn each week for Shabbat services not only because they afford a few hours away from daily stresses in which to join in silence and music with necessary, loving mystery, but also because they're a little boring. Ritual, for me, is a cushion to the surprise of life. I sit in the same pew each week, pray the same psalms, listen and marvel at consistently brilliant divrei Torah and B'nai Mitzvah speeches. They're always different in subject matter, but I know with complete assurance that I'll leave the sanctuary smarter than when I arrived.
But sometimes, like in a movie, one sound cuts through the usual background music. Time seems to stop. I had such a moment this morning when the rabbi offered his commentary on Tazria-Metzora, this week's Torah portion. It is, he noted, "no Noah's Ark;" skin diseases, blood, and laws of impurity don't make the most engaging story. Today was also Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month and traditional commemoration of the cycles of women, who are rendered ritually impure because of the discharge of blood. Next week we'll also celebrate the holiday of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.
The rabbi suggested a link between these three events, the weekly Torah portion, the new moon, and the continued existence of a Jewish state, itself a miracle of Biblical proportions. The link is love. And our challenge, in light of this awareness: grow up.
We love in three different ways, he suggested. To our children we give unconditional love, absolutely present no matter their actions. Many Jews have this kind of love for Israel, unwavering and impervious to criticism. Then there's conditional love: violated or betrayed, we withdraw, just as blood, discharge or disease banished the Israelites from their own community,
The third kind of love, said the rabbi, is mature love, love with compassion, which recognizes and accepts flaws and also supports the difficult and generally messy process of change. This part of the d'var Torah is where the music stopped for me, as if the usual ritual of listening and learning suddenly turned into a jewel reflecting the dusty sunlight that streamed in through tall church windows and blinded me to the usual order. Everyone in the congregation sat up a little straighter, opened our eyes wider. This kind of love, continued the rabbi, rejects rhetoric and understands that growth, like the waxing and waning of the moon, is a necessary part of life. This is the love we need to show Israel, and each other.
I sat there afterwards in the glow of his words thinking of how many tragedies and travesties could be healed with this kind of love--and also about my own paranoia, and how I need to develop a little more compassion for myself and trust that others, in fact, already respond to me in this way.
Omer: There are 32 days left of the Omer, which I keep forgetting to count. So, to impose a little discipline on myself, I'm going to write a line or two each night about the coming day's focus. This evening began the 17th day, which in the mystical tradition is Tiferet of Tiferet, the step of compassion in compassion. As Rabbi Simon Jacobson explains:
True compassion is limitless... Compassion for another is achieved by having a selfless attitude, rising above yourself and placing yourself in the other person's situation and experience.
His suggested exercise: Express your compassion in a new way that goes beyond your previous limitations. Which happens to be easy, this particular day, for myself as well as a few thousand other Jews who will get on buses and head to Washington, DC, in a few hours. (Yikes. I should go to sleep, since it's really much later than 11:59PM.) I hope we can raise our voices with conviction and kavannah, spiritual intention, and never forget that we really once were in their same situation.