Saturday, November 01, 2008

741. Silence

It's November 1, so I'm going to take another stab at NabloPoMo--30 posts in 30 days. My head and body have taken a long time to stop spinning from the holidays, but I know that writing a few lines every day keeps me healthier than any other method of post-Simhat Torah crashing.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to write a d'var Torah for my synagogue newsletter in honor of my tenth year as a member. I've set a goal of one of these per year, and this installment (due Monday, and I've also promised to send it around to my writing class tomorrow, oy) is proving more difficult than others. I chose Lekh Lekha because it was the Shabbat when I first understood why I was Jewish and on this journey at at all. Like Avram, I had no idea where I was going--but knew I would end up somewhere good. I was intrigued, as well, when I realized the parasha fell this year during election week, occasion of another leap of faith.

For years I was ambivalent about voting; I believed my silence spoke louder as a statement (mostly in disagreement and disgust). But as I got older, I understood that there were different kinds of silence, and I was not really expressing what I intended. Silence can become a joining together of community, a calm, quiet act of connection, where the absence of words creates a powerful oasis of reason away from the noise of life. (Passive resistance, for example.) But silence can also represent the abdication of power and rights, a solitary, selfish drawing away from community. Eventually I saw that my choice to not vote fell into the latter category, and I was squandering the precious gift of living in a democracy.

So when I thought about Avram in Lekh Lekha, I was as annoyed with him as I had been with myself. How could he just go off to who knows where at God's command without a single word of protest? Didn't God give us the unique power over to speak, give names, make choices? Did God really expect Avram, a smart, articulate, opinionated man who challenged his father's idol-worshipping ways, to disavow that power--and wasn't Avram smart enough to question such a senseless order? But this was a story of blind, unquestioning faith. During the years I viewed voting as a duty, a rule I had to obey, I felt chained and silenced by the obligation, and rebelled by doing the opposite. In both this story and the Akedah, I wondered why Abram didn't balk as well in response to God's order.

Turing this question over and over these past few weeks, I've come to believe that Avram's obedience was the other kind of silence, that of trust and partnership. Being chosen by God was a mutual decision and reciprocal relationship. He was drawn to obey for the same reason I decided to keep coming to services week after week after hearing my rabbis speak aboutLekh Lekha—translated literally: go, go to yourself—that Shabbat morning ten years ago. He knew that to do otherwise would be to squander the gift of a partner and teacher, and deny the possibility of unimagined kinds of growth.

We take the same leap when we vote, and express our gratitude at the gift of democracy. Out of the silence of obedience comes action, like Avram as he set forth on that new road. We learn how to make choices and find our own voices, just as I have been discovering my own these past years.

Hopefully these musings make sense, and I'll figure out, very soon, how to write them up as a d'var Torah.


Regina said...

Mm... this was wonderful, aa and good for me to read as I have experienced much the same thoughts and feelings about voting over the years. This year was the first year where I really felt like my vote would count for something, so that was a great impetus for me. Feeling hopeless is not a good place to work from...
I finally felt like I voted with my conscious and not from some hereditary gene that says you must vote this way because that's the way our family has always done it... excising that was a freedom, I can tell you.
Good luck on writing your d'var Torah- and on NaBloPoMo- I am doing NaNoWriMo!!! Eek!

alto artist said...

Congratulations on voting from your heart! And for tackling NaNoWriMo--I am in awe. You will succeed, I'm sure of it!