When you reach the stones of pure marble, don’t say, “Water! Water!” As it states, “One who speaks falsehood shall not endure before My eyes” [Psalms 101:7]
— Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 14b
The speaker, Rabbi Akiba, is one of four who “entered Pardes [Paradise],” the only one who “entered in peace and departed in peace.” His instructions are understood as pre-trip warnings to other other three.
Some explanations for Akiba’s words liken pure marble to the place where upper (divine) and lower (mundane) waters meet, arguing against attempting to divide divine and mundane. Many teachings focus on dualisms, warning against dividing God into Light/Dark, Good/Evil, etc.
But Michelle Obama spoke, back in April 2013, to what I consider the most dangerous dualism of all: allowing some of our citizens to grow up “consumed with watching their backs” while others grow up enjoying a city’s riches.
Boundless Promise Lost
I wrote then:
Accepting such a state of affairs implies two sets of rules or, worse, two sets of expectations for human beings. This is tantamount to bowing to two gods.
At the “place of pure marble” — where the Torah tells us all humans are in God’s image — we must acknowledge that “every single child in [Chicago or any city] has boundless promise no matter where they live.” Failing to do so is blasphemy of the deepest kind, it “speaks falsehood” that cannot endure before God’s eyes.
— from Fabrangen Havurah‘s omer-counting blog, 2013
Meanwhile, Chicago, my first hometown, has lost so many to street and police violence, as has DC, my adopted hometown of 27 years. Losses across the country mount at a rate so high as to be numbing.
And this does not even begin to address suffering of, and long-term affects in, communities experiencing grief upon grief. Nor does it approach the dual reality Mrs. Obama described in our mutual hometown:
Today, too many kids in this city are living just a few El stops, sometimes even just a few blocks, from shiny skyscrapers and leafy parks and world-class museums and universities, yet all of that might as well be in a different state, even in a different continent.
— Michelle Obama, April 10, 2013
But the literal meaning of the word is “Glory.”
May the energy of this attribute impel us, finally, this week, to see that this dual existence is incompatible with God’s glory and “shall not endure before [God’s] eyes.”
The war on Black people in Baltimore is the same war on Black people across America. Decades of poverty, unemployment, under-funded schools and police terrorism have reached a boiling point in Baltimore and cities around the country.
This past winter our people were presented with hollow reforms. This spring we present to the world our visionary demands. Demands that speak to a world where all Black Lives Matter.
This will be our #BlackSpring.
— Ferguson Action
We counted 30 on the evening of May 3. Tonight, we count….
Making the Omer Count
from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.
So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:
Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.
Thoughts and sources welcome.
Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.
Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.
I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:
Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.
“Four men entered pardes — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher ([“Other”], Elisha ben Abuyah), and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace.”
— from Babylonian Talmud: Chagigah 14b; Wikipedia offers a good basic page on Pardes [Paradise]