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Thought Of The Week

Shabbat Works
Truth and Destruction
Between the Straits

While the press coverage of Israel, and the international reaction, during this current conflict continues to distress me, I will write about that issue in a blog post later today, and that will be forwarded to you. In this Shabbat thought, I would like to turn our attention inward.

The solemn three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz (15 July) and the 9th of Av (5 August) are called "Bein Ha-Meitzarim" - "Between the Straits" (from Lamentations 1:3). The 9th of Av commemorates the destruction of the two temples built on the same spot, the place where heaven reached into earth. The destruction became a metaphor for how we disrupt the connection between ourselves and the divine, the divine reaching into us.

This phrase, "connection between ourselves and the divine" is so high sounding that it is almost irritating for me to write it. I always feel that I have to explain what I mean. Here is an example.

I hope you have read Toni Morrison's novel Tarbabe. While rightfully termed a classic in African American literature, it is so much more than that, to the point that putting the novel in that genre is a disservice.

There is one character in the book, Valerian Street, who has become an archetype for my thinking about "disrupting the connection between ourselves and the divine." Valerian is a wealthy (from making candy) white man, a patron, generous and often mean spirited. The summaries of the novel that I have read don't mention one feature, however, that Morrison emphasizes: his search for meaning. He is the patron of others because of his desire to make meaning of this life. He continuously searches his life for a 'big thing.' He finds out late in life that his wife Margaret has continuously, and wretchedly, been abusing their son. We the readers are shocked, even though we smelled something from far away. The biggest thing in Valerian's life, he finds out too late, was to protect his son. But he was blind, because he was so attached to scouring the horizon for something that suited his grandiose sense of self. He fades from the novel, a broken man.

The core thing I mean by "connection to the divine" is to find and perform your duty in the world. For the religiously and spiritually inclined among us: imagine that there is a spirit and will of the divine reaching through you, uniquely you, to be, first of all, mindful and authentic. Mindful and authentic, aware of the truths of yourself and the world in which you are situated. Many things are required of you: Perhaps justice, when you feel sorry for someone. Perhaps compassion, when your urge is justice. Contradictory things are required of you; we are pulled many ways by differing and competing obligations. No book can tell you how to decide. No moral code can resolve this when we live within competing moral obligations.

I see this most in parenting. You know I believe that much of what we are is genetic, but how we are raised triggers one thing or another in our genetic envelope. One child needs pushing to achieve their potential; for another child, pushing them forces them up against a shame inducing wall that bruises them forever. You have to parent their soul, not obey some book or advice of someone else who does not have to pay the price. Parenting the soul of a child requires truth.

There is a truth, often complex and obscure, pushing through you, uniquely you. Like Valerian, we are often blind to this truth, looking instead for a truth that more suits the fictional story we tell about ourselves. Life is non-fiction.

For me, the time "between the straits" is a time where we meditate on how we lose the connection with the Truth that seeks to be known and realized through us, and how we can continuously restore ourselves to a life of truth, words of truth, and a language of truth.

I will expand on this topic during my two study sessions at 9:00 and 11:15 AM, this Shabbat.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley


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