n Rosh HaShanah day I pointed to tears – woven by tradition into the sound of the shofar – as an important signal to listen to, a signal that leads us first to that broken heart, and ultimately to compassionate action to relieve suffering and make change. We in Kavana now have a unique opportunity engage in some important action that could give more people the power to make changes for the better.
On Erev Rosh HaShanah I spoke about the power of a broken heart to bring us closer to what is most vital and precious, and its ability to lead us first to personal transformation – teshuvah – and next to transformation of the broken world around us – tikkun olam. On Rosh HaShanah day I pointed to tears – woven by tradition into the sound of the shofar – as an important signal to listen to, a signal that leads us first to that broken heart, and ultimately to compassionate action to relieve suffering and make change. We in Kavana now have a unique opportunity engage in some important action that could give more people the power to make changes for the better. For information on how to join other Kavana partners to register voters in a competitive congressional district close to Seattle, see the last paragraph below and/or email Kavana partner Ingrid Elliot for more information.
Each of us has our own pathway that leads us from heartbreak, shock, outrage, and/or tears to action, our own cues that wake us up – like the shofar – to the brokenness that surrounds us and our own need to do something about it. For me, one of those wake-up calls has come recently in the form of tears, tears that come at an unexpected moment: when reading our children a bedtime story. It’s one bedtime story in particular – the illustrated edition of “One Today,” Richard Blanco’s poem for President Obama’s second inauguration. I have read that book countless times to our kids and each time I’m surprised to be caught by tears at a different point. Sometimes I tear up reading “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom / buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días in the language my mother taught me – in every language spoken into one wind carrying our lives without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.” Sometimes I don’t even get past the opening line – “One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies” – before I shed a tear.
If I follow my own advice – to listen to our tears, to follow the cues they give us – what do I learn from my tears? First, my tears tell me that, somehow, this poem by a Cuban-American poet, raised Catholic, is speaking my idiom – the language of oneness – which only affirms both his poem’s message that we Americans are one in our diversity, and the Jewish concept of oneness – that we are all created in the image of one God.
But perhaps most importantly, my tears at reading this poem wake me up to a love flowing through my broken heart – and I suspect through many a broken heart in our community – an often-overlooked and forgotten love for America. I’m surprised to discover that because, believe me, I’ve spent my fair share of time critiquing American history and various U.S. government policies. But here’s the thing about tears and broken hearts: they don’t lie. No matter how often I forget it, no matter how much I critique America, my tears tell me that I love America, that I am heart-broken at the disastrous state of the union, and that I still hold a hope that we can live up to our ideals. And my tears stir in me a burning need to do something to help us recover from that disaster and bring us closer to those ideals. This is just my story; we all have our own relationship to America that we express in different ways. But the point is to listen to the truth of your heart and what it urges you to do, whether you describe that as compassionate action, protest, critique, constructive steps, or anything else. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by our grief at the state of things, but I believe that if we really listen, our hearts – whether broken or otherwise – always point us towards hopeful action. How does your heart lead you towards repairing our country and our world this High Holiday season?
Now we all have an opportunity to take action to give concrete expression to our love or outrage or hope or vision. We can help our government become more representative of that breathtaking diversity Richard Blanco wrote about. We live very close to Washington’s 8th Congressional District, whose Congressman is retiring, leaving an open seat in this November’s election. A wonderful team of Kavana partners – including Julie Burg, Ingrid Elliot, Brooke Brod, Robin Schachter, and Lisa Colton – is organizing two days for us to go to the 8th and register voters – this Sunday, 9/16, and also Sunday, 9/30 – with the help of co-sponsor Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and Fuse Washington. People who are unregistered to vote tend to be part of just those groups that are most underrepresented throughout society, so by registering them we are creating a more representative electorate and hopefully a more representative Congress. All the details are below; you can sign up for a shift or email Ingrid Elliot with questions. We hope you’ll join us. It’ll be a great way to say “hello / shalom / buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días” to your fellow Americans. And it will be a great way to turn your important High Holiday reflection and internal work into something that will have an impact first on yourself – it feels good to take action! – and then on our whole country and world.
Gemar Chatimah Tovah – May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year and may your High Holidays come to a good conclusion,
Rabbi Josh Weisman
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.