“Only to the whole world” (Beyond 22)

Is the call “No Justice, No Peace” a threat or a prayer? “encapsulation of the lex talionis, an eye for an eye,” as Pat Buchanan says? a a statement of fact?

 By OsamaK (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (Creative Commons)], via Wikimedia Commons

By OsamaK (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (Creative Commons)], via Wikimedia Commons

This commentary on the Sim Shalom, the closing blessing and prayer for peace, at the end of the Amidah [Standing Prayer] discusses the Barcheinu Avinu verse: “Bless all of us as one, through the light of Your Presence.”

teaching from Shlomo Carlebach on “Sim Shalom

found on the Album “Songs of Peace” (recorded: 1973)
[Begins singing “Barcheinu Avinu,”
verse near the beginning of “Sim Shalom,”
then pauses for this teaching]
If I ask God: “Please give me, give me money, give me health” —
it is possible that I should be healthy,
but, God forbid, the rest of the world should not be.
I could be rich,
but the whole world, God forbid, can be poor.

But there is one precious thing I cannot ask God
just give it to me and not to the rest of the world,
and that is peace.
For it’s for the whole world or it isn’t there at all.
Because peace comes from such a high place in heaven,
it is only given to the whole world.
It’s not given to individuals, because it’s God Himself.

And now the thing is, there are a lot of lights in the world.
If I ask God: “Please put light into my soul, put light into my life,”
the question is: Where is this light coming from?
If I’m just asking for myself,
then the light comes from a very low place.

Everybody knows, everybody knows,
when we davven [pray] Shemona Esrei [“18”/Amidah]
three times a day, we ask all our needs.
But at the end we say: “Please, Almighty, Sim Shalom
– Let there be peace.”
And then we say: “Barcheinu avinu – please bless me**,”
but “kulanu ki echad – all of us like one
b’or panecha – with Your light.”
Because the light of God is only for the whole world:
it’s the light of peace, the light of love, the light of shabbes [sabbath].

So join me….
[Returns to singing again “Barcheinu Avinu”]
** more grammatically:
“bless us, Our Father [or Parent]”

Recalling Psalms 85:11 —
 חֶסֶד-וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ;    צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ.
“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”

— what does Shlomo’s teaching tell us about the call “No Justice, No Peace”?

We counted 22 on the evening of April 25. Tonight, we count….

Continue reading “Only to the whole world” (Beyond 22)

Heavy Heart in Hand (Beyond 21)

A story is the easiest, and, I hope, clearest, way for me to convey this thought to open the week of Netzach [“eternity,” also leadership] in the omer journey away from oppression. (apologies for length)

At this morning’s worship service, Temple Micah‘s Rabbi Zemel pointed participants’ attention to the following note, a kavanah [focusing intention] before the Standing Prayer:

Rabbi Ammi taught: A person’s prayer is not acceptable unless one’s heart is in one’s hands. (Taanit 8a)
Mishkan T’filah, p.243

I attempted to approach the Amidah’s opening blessing in that spirit.

The opening blessing calls on God who “remembers the love of our fathers and mothers” and “brings redemption to their children’s children for the sake of the Divine Name.” Mishkan T’filah includes the matriarchs — “God of Sarah, …Rivkah, …Rachel, and God of Leah” — here. But it does not mention Bilhah and Zilpah, concubines to Jacob and mothers of four of the twelve tribes of Israel.

A Heavy Heart

For some years, I included the names of Bilhah and Zilpah myself in an effort to honor them and the many “fathers and mothers,” Jews or non-Jews, who contribute to the community over the centuries. But a few years ago I stopped on the theory that this, however inadvertently, led to erasing the history of oppression.

Ignoring race or underdog status in an attempt at inclusiveness, I reasoned, can have a negative impact, allowing those of more powerful or privileged status to forget that the underdog/slave still carries effects of that (former?) status.

Nowadays, instead of including the six mothers as equals in the list, I’ve taken to pausing after calling on “God of Abraham…God of Leah,” to specifically call on “God of the Ancestors of all with whom we’ve traveled.”

A note from Judith Z. Abrams on the opening blessing explains

The content of this prayer has to do with the merit of our ancestors. This is traditionally conceived of as a sort of bank account into which the Patriarchs and Matriarchs deposited funds of righteousness that were so great that they covered all future generations.
Mishkan T’filah, p.244

And, if we’re to invoke the merit of all the ancestors, there are some debts owing as well. So, this morning, I found that my heart, in hand, grew heavy as I invoked the God of all the Ancestors.

By the time I reached Sim Shalom, the closing blessing and prayer for peace, I could hear the wails of so many oppressed descendants of those Ancestors calling on God to “bless all of us as one, through the light of Your Presence” that I wondered how others seemed (apparently) unaware of the din filling the sanctuary.

Open Fingers

In many prayerbooks (outside the Reform Movement), the prayer for peace includes the ancient priestly blessing:

May GOD bless you and keep you.
May GOD shine his face toward you and treat you graciously.
May GOD lift his face toward you and grant you peace (from Numbers 6:26).

Hands-Blessing164Priests — and in some communities, all the participants — accompany this blessing with an open-fingered gesture. (See right>>>) And so I got to thinking after the service about open fingers and hearts in hand.

I decided to look up Rabbi Ammi’s teaching in the Babylonian Talmud:

R. Ammi said: A man’s prayer is only answered if he takes his heart into his hand, as it is said, “Let us lift up our heart with our hands” (Lam 3:41). [But a teaching of Samuel asks: Do we not also read] “…For their heart was not steadfast with Him, neither were they faithful in His covenant; and yet, But He being full of compassion, forgiveth iniquity etc.” (Psalms 78:36-38)? — This is no contradiction. The one refers to the individual, and the other to the community.
— Soncino translation, from Halakhah.com
[I added quotation marks for the biblical verses; see also note below]

Samuel uses Psalm 78 to suggest that a community can be answered, even when its collective heart is not steadfast — which seems a great mercy.

Loving-Kindness in Leadership

Today is the day of Chesed in Netzach, loving-kindness in eternity or leadership. And in the spirit of this day, I ask:

  • What is the relationship of heart in hands and an open-fingered prayer?
  • Can individuals — priests or, in some understandings, all of us — bring blessings on the whole community if our own hearts are in our own hands? Are our own hearts impediments? or an aid to opening our fingers?
  • What does it mean that Rabbi Ammi’s proof-text is in the plural “lift up our heart with our hands”? Is there, somehow a collective communal heart and an individual one?
  • And, finally: Who else finds the heart they bring to prayer a heavy one these days? And how can we work together to help bring blessing with, or in spite of, that weight?

We counted 21 on the evening of April 24. Tonight, we count….

NOTES:

Lamentations 3:41 —

נִשָּׂא לְבָבֵנוּ אֶל-כַּפָּיִם, אֶל-אֵל בַּשָּׁמָיִם.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.

The bracketed material above:

[But it is not so. Surely]18 Samuel appointed an amora19 to
act for him and his exposition ran thus:

with these notes —

(18) So Bomberg ed. and inserted in cur. edd. in square brackets, p. 33 n. 1.
(19) Same as Meturgeman. V. supra p. 12, n. 4.

And the supra note on “meturgeman” —

The translator or interpreter. The function of this official in Talmudic times was to interpret to the audience in the Synagogue in a popular manner and to enlarge upon the theme of the rabbi lecturing. Rashi, feeling that in our passage no such official could be referred to, explains that here the lecturing rabbi and interpreter are one and the same person, he who lectures on the first day of Passover, and that he included in his address a prayer for rain. V. however, the commentary of R. Hananel ad loc.

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Continue reading Heavy Heart in Hand (Beyond 21)

A Prayer and “A Small Needful Fact” (Beyond 20)

To close out this week of Tiferet [“beauty”], the balancing of Chesed [“loving-kindness”] with Gevurah [“strength” or “boundaries”], a few words of prayer and meditation from the early morning service (Koren Saks translation; meditation [mine]) —

May Your loving-kindness be greatly upon me, and in Your might may my enemies and those who rise against me be subdued.
I pray in the spirit of the Talmudic great, Beruriah, who scolded her husband, Rabbi Meir, for praying that “sinners be no more,” insisting instead that he should instead pray that the sins that should be no more. (See Berakhot 10a; Midrash Psalms 118)
— from “Prayers for a Change

— and a thought from Ross Gay on “Split this Rock,” a national network of socially engaged poets:

by Zachary Lynch, mixed media/sgraffito board
by Zachary Lynch, mixed media/sgraffito board
A Small Needful Fact
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

***
Used with permission.

***Ross Gay is a gardener and teacher living in Bloomington, Indiana. His book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, is available from University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.

***
Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.

Shabbat Shalom.

We counted 20 on the evening of April 23. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading A Prayer and “A Small Needful Fact” (Beyond 20)

How Systemic is Our Awareness? (Beyond 19)

What would it mean for reports about Dante Servin, armed off-duty Chicago police officer, and Rekia Boyd, the unarmed 22-year-old citizen he shot to death in March 2012, “to be systemically aware” (see yesterday’s post)?

  • Should we be focusing on a judicial system that let Servin off on a technicality this past Monday (4/20/15)?
  • Should we be focusing on the invisibility of women in the discussion of police killings?
  • Should we be talking about racism in state violence more generally?
  • Or should be we consider the even more fundamental issue of fear?
from BYP100 .org
from BYP100 (Black Youth Project)

Rekia Boyd’s story is not a straightforward example of the “unarmed suspect shot” scenario: Servin was not attempting to arrest Rekia Boyd. He appears to have been reacting to belief that her boyfriend was armed (he wasn’t), complicating any discussion of police response to Black women. Servin defends his actions by invoking police protocol, claiming: “Any police officer especially would have reacted in the exact same manner” (see video in ABC7Chicago story linked above). But he was off-duty, and he shot Rekia Boyd following a complaint about noise because he “feared for his life.” So, really, it comes down to fear….

The badges and guns belong to us

John Domen, 12/8/14,  CBS Local story
John Domen, 12/8/14,
CBS Local story

I symbolically embodied Rekia Boyd during a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol followed by a 4-1/2 hour die-in at the Department of Justice on Human Rights Day, December 8, 2014. I chose her name because she was female (like me) and from Chicago (like me). And while I had already left the city by the time I was 22, I feel some connection with a young woman out with friends on her own streets, maybe forgetting that it was late and time to keep the noise down or maybe just forgetting — as my friends and I did often enough — that there were other people around.

During those long, cold hours on the ground outside the Department of Justice, the following passage — one that has stuck in my brain since I first read it — returned to me again and again:

“…Them shootin’ me wasn’t no accident. You don’t take no scared white boys can’t tell the difference between one black man and another, give ’em guns, and let ’em run around the streets of Harlem and then say it was an accident when they one day shoot down an innocent man….”
— Tempest Landry, speaking post-death in Walter Mosley’s Tempest Tales. (NY: Washington Square Press, 2008.)
see also “Declarations of Independence…”

And, while some sectors, particularly Black media, have certainly addressed the topic many times for decades upon decades, mainstream media is still not asking the most fundamental question:


Why do we allow armed police to roam in areas where they fear the residents?

As Collette Flannigan, mother of Clinton Allen (age 25; killed by Dallas TX police), told “Voices of Grief and Struggle” last December:

 

“Those badges and guns belong to us.

Every time they kill they kill in our name.”

That’s a level of systemic awareness I rarely see and believe we must develop, soon.

We counted 19 on the evening of April 22. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading How Systemic is Our Awareness? (Beyond 19)

Lucidity and Racism (Beyond 18)

Yesterday’s post warned of the dangers of “pretension to total lucidity,” a concept based on Zornberg’s commentary on the Book of Numbers. (See also quote, citation.) Today, Race Forward released a series of videos responding to the query, “Systemic Racism: Is that really a thing?” — a key element of “lucidity.”

Systemic Racism: Is that really a thing?
Systemic Racism: Is that really a thing?

Race Forward, formerly Applied Research Center, has been researching racism and pushing conversations about it since 1981. Its publication, Colorlines, covers “stories from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers,” with breaking news, investigative reporting, and dispatches. Jay Smooth is Race Forward’s video and multimedia producer — a cultural commentator with a gift for succinctly addressing complex issues. (See also “Oppression as ‘Normal'” for more from Smooth.)

Looking at each entry in the new series about Systemic Racism, I found myself asking: How will this move the conversation forward? Those who see this, see it already, and who else will take the time to look at the videos? But the video below (separate from the series) cogently explains how Race Forward’s examination of news found that much of it (2/3 of stories examined) “fails to be systemically aware.” Exploring this can only improve our societal “lucidity.” (the related 2014 report)

We counted 18 on the evening of April 21. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading Lucidity and Racism (Beyond 18)

Pretension to Lucidity (Beyond 17)

As the “Tifereth” [“beauty”] week of this journey away from oppression continues, I return again to the biblical concept that all humans (other than Moses) see only a part of any picture:

…The problem arises when one is not aware of one’s own deflections of vision. Imagining oneself clear-eyed, one may become the greatest fantasist of all….the greatest illusion may be the pretension to total lucidity.
— from Bewilderments, Avivah Zornberg’s study of the wilderness travels in the Book of Numbers (see fuller quote and citation in Beyond 14)

In a post published today, Talia Cooper, program director of Ma’yan, provides an example of failing to get the “full picture.” the failure to understand and acknowledge anti-Semitism in the “leftist activist community.”

Anti-Semitism is real. It has and continues to negatively impact our Jewish people.

The leftist activist community doesn’t always do a good job acknowledging or understanding anti-Semitism.

It’s a problem because it means the left won’t have a full picture of society, which is necessary in order to build power and win. And it’s a problem because it perpetuates anti-Semitism itself.
— “A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege” on Mayan.org

She goes on to explore the “privilege” factors in the complicated intersectionalities of any one identity expression:

Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s “simple” because I’ve lived it my whole life.
— Read the rest of Cooper’s piece

LucidityCooper addresses specific conversations she believes Jews must have around intersectionality.
This omer series introduced the topic with “Are (Any) Jews White?” early in the Passover week. Readers are urged to share their thoughts and if/how their thinking has evolved over the course of this omer journey.

The midrash quoted above — insisting that we NEVER have the whole picture — offers a powerful call to remember the dangers of “pretension to total lucidity.”

We counted 17 on the evening of April 20. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading Pretension to Lucidity (Beyond 17)

Endurance and Transformation (Beyond 16)

“Endurance is not to be confused with transformation,” bell hooks (see “Balancing Compassion and Strength“)

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
— Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 37a.

stolendreamThere is still much to be learned on the omer journey away from oppression. As our learning journey progresses, the March 2 Justice approaches the U.S. Capitol, providing an opportunity to learn directly from civil rights leaders and marchers themselves.

In their “Why We March,” the NY Justice League notes that JUST THIS YEAR the individuals listed here on the right, many with mental health issues, were killed by police.

In their honor, and in the names of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, John Crawford III, and Ramarley Graham, the NY Justice League is calling for

  • an end to racial profiling,
  • stopping the militarization of our local police forces, and
  • demanding the government invest in our youth and communities.

We counted 16 on the evening of April 19. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading Endurance and Transformation (Beyond 16)

(Beyond 15)

Yesterday’s post included a note from Bewilderments, Avivah Zornberg’s study of the wilderness travels in the Book of Numbers.

…Moses alone of human beings ‘saw b’aspaklariah meirah— through a clear lens.” All others, including prophets and seers, saw through an unclear glass, a distorted lens of subjectivity (Babylonia Talmud: Yevamot 49b, Rashi to Numbers 12:6). The problem arises when one is not aware of one’s own deflections of vision. Imagining oneself clear-eyed, one may become the greatest fantasist of all….the greatest illusion may be the pretension to total lucidity.

Also yesterday, theGrio — the African American Breaking news site — published “Study: Teachers more likely to label black students as troublemakers,” describing the “black-escalation effect”:

…teachers were shown records of kids with either stereotypical black names (Deshawn or Darnell) or stereotypical white names (Greg or Jake) and asked what disciplinary steps should be taken after certain infractions.

While the response to the first infraction was the same across both races, after the second rule infraction, teachers pushed for more punishment for the black students than the white students.

“It’s not that these are racist people, it’s just that we all are exposed to stereotypes in the world,” Jason Okonufua, the study’s lead researcher, said.

“The problem arises when one is not aware of one’s own deflections of vision.”

We counted 15 on the evening of April 18. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading (Beyond 15)

Balancing Kindness and Strength (Beyond 14)

With the new week, we begin a third leg in our journey away from oppression, and so shift focus to a new aspect of divinity. The first week focused on Chesed [“loving-kindness”]. The second, on Gevurah [“strength” or “boundaries,” sometimes “judgement”]. The third, “Tiferet” [“beauty”], is said to combine the first two. On its own chesed and gevurah are each untenable: in individual lives and in the universe as a whole a non-stop flow of loving-kindness leaves no room for boundaries; unmitigated strength leaves no room for compassion. The third attribute of God, and this third week of the Omer count, represent a balancing of forces.

In the early days of this omer journey, we focused on knowing as an act of loving-kindness, moving away from the moral deficiency of not-knowing — as when Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph (his country’s past) — in the early Exodus story. In the second week, we focused on strength required to persevere in the face of oppression and complex boundaries of gender and race.

To launch the third week, here are two potentially “balancing” thoughts —

one from bell hooks on Black women and feminism:

Usually, when people talk about the “strength” of black women they are referring to the way in which they perceive black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.
— bell hooks. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1981.) p.6

and one from Avivah Zornberg on subjectivity and post-slavery views of a “good Land”:

bewildermentsThe world cannot be seen without ‘interference.’ According to a classic Talmudic description, Moses alone of human beings ‘saw b’aspaklariah meirah— through a clear lens.” All others, including prophets and seers, saw through an unclear glass, a distorted lens of subjectivity (Babylonia Talmud: Yevamot 49b, Rashi to Numbers 12:6). The problem arises when one is not aware of one’s own deflections of vision. Imagining oneself clear-eyed, one may become the greatest fantasist of all….the greatest illusion may be the pretension to total lucidity.

[Moses sees the land as “good.”] But the people are driven by fantasies and anxieties that make goodness an issue of love and hate; the Land represents other questions about themselves, the world, and God. No demonstration of lush fruit can ever lay rest the efes [however] coiled within them. Moses’ dream of vindication cannot address their need. For them, a journey will have proved necessary, if they are to find a way of speaking of the good Land with all their heart.
— Avivah Zornberg. Bewilderments. (NY: Schocken, 2015), p.134, 146

We counted 14 on the evening of April 17. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading Balancing Kindness and Strength (Beyond 14)

More Race and Gender and Strength and Boundaries (Beyond 13)

Shabbat approaches, and this week’s Torah portion is Shemini (“Eighth [day],” Lev: 9:1 – 11:47; see also “In Praise of Silence” ). It’s one in which women are simply not present — not even, as in the next double portion of Tazria and Metzora, as a source of potential impurity — unless by extrapolation: The portion is largely about kashrut; women have traditionally borne responsibility for keeping a kitchen kosher; therefore, women’s presence is implied. Earlier in Exodus, we learn the name of Aaron’s wife. When Nadav and Abihu die after offering “strange fire,” however we are told that “Aaron was silent,” but Elisheva is not even mentioned. (Lev. 10:1-3)

It is worth noting, I think, that this woman-less portion closes out the week of Gevurah [“strength” or “boundaries”] in our omer journey away from oppression. Jews, and Jewish feminists in particular, have been grappling for a long time with the ways the Torah defines women, when it isn’t ignoring them entirely. And this seems a good time to focus our attention on the ways in which Black women have been defined by others when the narrative isn’t ignoring them entirely.
Continue reading More Race and Gender and Strength and Boundaries (Beyond 13)