Beshallach

Murderous White Nationalists, Modern Pharaohs, and the Sea of Reeds

As virulent White Nationalism spreads, we must affirm and act on our solidarity and shared sorrow with the dead of “Tree of Life” and its site-sharing synagogues in Pittsburgh, of the Al Noor Mosque and Lynwood Mosque in New Zealand, of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In Philadelphia, a dozen rabbis and about 20 other Jews  responded by joining the Jumaah (Friday afternoon) prayers at Masjidullah, a leading mosque.  We were warmly welcomed by the Muslim community. On Saturday evening, at LOVE Park near City Hall, about 300 people took part in a gathering initiated by CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic-Relations). Representatives of the city and state governments spoke alongside clergy from several religious traditions. I was able to share the seeing and the meaning of my Tallit (prayer shawl).

 

  

As you see, woven physically as well as symbolically into it are sacred places of Judaism and Islam – the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock – and if you look carefully between them, the Rock itself on which Abraham our Forebear bound Isaac and from which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,  leapt into his mystical journey to Heaven.

I arranged to have it woven for me in 1974 after I added “Ishmael” to my Hebrew name (“Avraham Yitzchak Yishmael,” =  "Ibrahim Is'haq" Ismail"“ = "Abraham Isaac Ishmael”) adding the traditional forebear of the Arab peoples and the transmitter of the values of islam taught by his parents Abraham and Hagar --  thus uniting in my name, my self, all the families of the Abrahamic tradition within me. 

 On Saturday night, I explained that ever since, when there is violence within the broader family between its different cohorts, I feel myself torn apart. When we turn to love and healing with each other, I feel whole within. I suggested we all need to see ourselves, each of us and each of our communities and traditions, with each of the others living within us. With that awareness expanding our tradition, not watering it down.

 Not Muslim “theys” died in New Zealand, not Christian “theys”in South Carolina, not Jewish “theys” in Pittsburgh, but ALL OF US in all three places.

 White Nationalism has become the Pharaoh oppressing us all. Just like the ancient Pharaoh who said to his folk of "pure blood and soil," --  

“There is a people, immigrants with a different religion and a different language from our pure-blood Egyptians. who may turn against us, become terrorists to join with our enemies. We must subjugate them, enslave them, even murder their children. We must deploy brutal “overseers” [=racist police], incite unofficial members of the public into hatred and murder, and ultimately mobilize my horse-chariot Army to repress them!” 

 And this ancient Pharaoh and our modern pharaohs brought plagues upon not only human communities but our shared Mother Earth herself. Plagues that were eco-disasters, killing human beings through undrinkable water, famine, and disease.

 

We must see the Modern Pharaohs' attacks on climate science and decent climate policy as part of the same White Nationalist mind-set: --  For the Hyper-Wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, everything. For those who drink water, breathe air, farm the land, eat the food, nothing.  

 

 Friday was a day of disaster.  It was also a day of grass-roots transformation. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren went on strike around the world, demanding that our governments act NOW to keep their lives livable 30 or 40 years from now.

Pharaohs always breed Resistance.  Which will be victorious?  The answer is blowing in the Wind, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of us all, that Holy ONE Whose Name can only be "pronounced" by breathing. And by Action.

The ancient Pharaoh's arrogance, stubbornness, cruelty ended when the Pharaoh’s power dissolved into the Sea of Reeds. 

 Today We the People must become the Sea of Reeds. Each of us a reed that may for a moment bend but never break, after each momentary bending springing upright to catch the Pharaohs and dissolve their power.

We can turn our own memories of resistance to Pharaoh past, encoded in the Passover Seder, into an “insightment” of future transformation.


RThat is what the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 will be, as national leaders of the Resistance and local survivors-and-resisters of plagues come together.  If you live in or near Philadelphia, you can register for a Dinner and/or the Seder at TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50. The cost of both will rise on March 23, so register NOW. There will be no walk-ins.

 If you live more than 70 miles from Philadelphia, you can pick up the live-streamed Seder by registering here:

TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50LIVE

You can invite friends to join with you, or organize a larger Seder. You can watch and listen to it all, or single out some parts and bring your own local leaders and organizers to speak.

 Fifty years after the original Freedom Seder, in another time of deep crisis in American democracy and now in our planet’s history as well, I look forward to joining with you on April 7!

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace –- at a moment when each of those languages radiates both hurt and transformation. --  Arthur

 

Torah Study, Eco-Science, & Activism

Ecological Devastation & the Poor Peoples Campaign

Several weeks ago, Truah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights decided to support the organizing efforts of the Poor Peoples Campaign by supplying Torah-study texts and questions for the six different focuses of the six different weeks of the 40-day PPC campaign. Truah asked several rabbis, including me, to provide these texts and studies.

The way this was to work: Each of us proposed some texts of Torah (in the broad sense: the Hebrew Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries) that dealt with the key Spirit--rooted areas of the PPC campaign: poverty; racism; militarism; ecological devastation and health; jobs, income, and housing; and “a fusion movement rising up in response to a false moral narrative.”

Along with the texts we chose,  we provided some questions to encourage and enrich exploration of these issues from a Torah perspective. We did not provide “correct answers”; the purpose was to encourage open exploration by a gathering of people.

The texts and questions for the six weeks were published at <www.truah.org/ppc>.  I encourage you-all to look at them and to draw on them for conversations in your own community (face-to-face or on-line.)   Below I will add my own section, which addresses  “Ecological Devastation”  -- the issue that the Poor Peoples Campaign is dealing with this week.

As you will find by exploring these biblical texts,  both ancient Torah and modern science predict climate chaos and ecological disaster, if we keep on overworking our Earth and denying her the rhythmic restfulness that the Breath of Life requires.  So I urge you to join in the Poor Peoples Campaign at your own state capitol this week, demanding action to prevent even worse disasters than the droughts, famines, floods, and wildfires that our modern Carbon Pharaohs are already imposing on us. Find your closest action by clicking here: <https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/events/>

 I asked the Truah staff whether there might be a way to  invite people to respond with their own thoughts to any and all of these explorations of Torah, and to circulate their responses. The answer came back that Truah was not in a position to do this.

 So I am inviting you-all to do this. I invite you to read the Truah gathering of wisdom -- either on your own or in community --  and to respond with your own thought by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report, on The Shalom Center ‘s website. So please click <www.truah.org/ppc>  to read the rabbis’  thoughts that Truah collected, and then click here <> to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

 Here is my own contribution to Truah’s effort:

 The biblical passages about Creation (in  Genesis) draw our attention to who we are as human “earthlings” and our relationship to the Earth. And later texts (especially in Exodus 16 and Leviticus 25-26) explore how we can fulfill that relationship so that future generations can prevent ecological disasters and live sustainably.

(Torah translations are slightly modified from Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses (Schocken); the passage from II Chronicles, from the New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. For this section of Truah’s exploration of Torah, I chose the texts and the accompanying questions.)

I. ADAMAH & ADAM

A. Genesis 2:5

No bush of the field was yet on earth, no plant of the field had yet  sprung up, for YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life], God, had not made it rain upon the earth, and there was no human/ adam to till the soil/ adamah.

AW: Isn’t this backward to our understanding of evolution and to Genesis 1, in which vegetation emerged before Homo Sapiens ? Why would this Torah passage say it was necessary for the human (adam) to be present for shrubs of the earth (adamah) to grow?

The Torah continues (Gen. 1: verses 6-7): “but a surge would well up from the ground and water all the face of the soil; and YHWH, God, formed the human [adam], of dust from the soil [adamah]. YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life] blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.

AW: From the adamah (earth) comes forth adam (the human earthling). First this newborn loses the –ah, the Hebrew letter hei  that is the sound of breathing. Then the Creator Breath of Life (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh Elohim) “blew into the newborn’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living, breathing person.” What do these two passages mean about relationship between adam and adamah?

What do they mean about the relationship between God and Breath? About the YHWH Name?

About the relationship between an individual human birth and the emergence of the human species? 

TWO PARABLES: EDEN AND MANNA/SHABBAT

AW: Do these two parables have any connection with each other?

A. Eden

Genesis 2:15-17:  YHWH, God, took the human and set him in the garden of Eden [Delight}, to work it and to watch it. YHWH, God, commanded concerning the human, saying: From every (other) tree of the garden you may eat, yes, eat, but from the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil—you are not to eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you must die, yes, die.

 AW: Paraphrasing: “On this earth there is wonderful abundance. Eat of it in joy. But you must restrain yourselves just a little: Of this one tree, don’t eat.”  But the humans refuse to restrain themselves, and insist on leaving no part of the Garden uneaten.

 Genesis 3:17: To Adam [Human] God said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying: You are not to eat from it! Damned be the soil on your account, with painstaking-labor shall you eat from it, all the days of your life. Thorn and sting-shrub let it spring up for you, when you (seek to) eat the plants of the field! By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.

AW : By trying to gobble up all the abundancee, we have ruined it. Only by toiling every day of our lives with the sweat pouring down our faces will we find enough to eat from an earth that gives forth mostly thorns and thistles.”

B. Manna & Shabbat

Exodus 16:13b-18 (and continuing through verse 35)

...And at daybreak there was a layer of dew around the camp; and when the layer of dew went up, here, upon the surface of the wilderness, something fine, scaly, fine as hoar-frost upon the land. When the Children of Israel saw it they said each-man to his brother: Mahn hu/what is it? For they did not know what it was. Moshe said to them: It is the bread that YHWH has given you for eating. This is the word that YHWH has commanded: Glean from it, each-man according to what he can eat, an omer per capita, according to the number of your persons, each-man, for those in his tent, you are to take. The Children of Israel did thus, they gleaned, the-one-more and the-one-less, 18 but when they measured by the omer, no surplus had the-one-more, and the-one-less had no shortage; each-man had gleaned according to what he could eat.

AW :The Torah provides us this near-Edenic parable on the same theme, a story that points toward the healing of the disaster at the end of Eden. This is the parable of manna and Shabbat (Exodus 16). For in this story, as in Eden, the Great Provider showers adam again with almost free abundance. The only work the Israelites need to do is to walk forth every morning and gather the manna—a strange “vegetation” that is like coriander seed but far more nourishing.

No sweat, no toil, no thorns or thistles. Self-restraint is built in: Anyone who tries to gather more than enough to eat for a day finds that the extra rots and stinks. On the sixth day, enough manna falls to feed the people for another day, and it does not rot. It will meet their needs for the seventh day. On the seventh day, Shabbat, no manna falls. Self-restraint is again built in. But the two versions of self-restraint are quite different.

What was the self-restraint required in Eden? What was the self-restraint required in the wilderness when the Manna appeared? How do they differ?

III. SPIRITUAL PRACTICE & THE LAND: SHMITA AND ITS FAILURE

A. Leviticus 25:1-4, 6, 10, 23.

YHWH spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to YHWH. For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to YHWH: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune...Now the Sabbath-yield of the land (is) for you, for eating, for you, for your servant and or your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you...

You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year, proclaiming

freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; it shall be Homebringing [Yovel or Jubilee] for you, you are to return, each-man to his holding, each-man to his clan you are to return... But the land is not to be sold in-harness, for the land is mine; for you are sojourners and resident-settlers with me...

AW: Can we apply these teachings in our day? How?

1. Excerpts from Leviticus 26:14–46, especially verses 34–35 and 43

14 But if you do not hearken to me, by not observing all these commandments... you I will scatter among the nations; I will unsheath the sword against you, so that your land becomes a desolation and your cities become a wasteland. Then the land will find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths, all the days of desolation—when you are in

the land of your enemies—then the land will enjoy-cessation, and find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths. All the days of desolation it will enjoy-cessation, since it did not enjoy-cessation during its Sabbaths when you were settled on it.

B2. II Chronicles 36: 20. Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, and they became his and his sons’ servants till the rise of the Persian kingdom,  in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed.

AW: Through drought and famine, pestilence and plague, through an exile that today we would call a flood of refugees, our Mother Earth will indeed “rest” by failing to be fruitful. (N.B. Verse 23 of this chapter is the end of the entire Hebrew Bible.)

Are these disasters punishments? Consequences? How do we understand them? How do they compare with what modern climate scientists are predicting if we keep spewing CO2 and methane into our atmosphere?

I invite you to respond with your own thoughts by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report on The Shalom Center ‘s website, to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

Bitter Waters – from the Sinai Wilderness to Flint of Michigan

These past few weeks, an ancient and a modern tale of bitter, poisonous waters suddenly rang together as an alarm and an awakening. Right now: We have been learning about the horrifying and disgusting behavior of the government of Michigan, turning off the pipes bringing pure water from Lake Huron to the mostly Black citizens of the city of Flint and instead sending poisonous waters to Flint. (The Governor, Rick Snyder, is no Tea Party type, but a fairly typical "establishment" Republican businessman  -- anti-labor, anti-choice for women, anti-Syrian-refugees, and contemptuous of pleas from the Black folks of Flint to end the poisoning of their children.) So the bitter waters came:  Waters that stank and were colored brown and green, waters that caused rashes and boils to spring up on the skins of those who had to drink it.  Waters infused with lead, which is well-known to permanently and irreversibly damage the brains of young children.  Long long ago: The age-old Torah telling that we read this past Shabbat was the story of how ancient Israel crossed the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s power dissolved and his army drowned there.  Just a few days later, according to the story, they protested because they had no water fit to drink.  What connects these two events?  On February 25, 1964, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, soon to become a friend and political comrade

1st-Borns, ReBirth, & Passing Over: My Own & All of Us

This year I am feeling haunted by one of the lesser-known aspects of Passover: On the morning before the First Seder –- which means this very morning –— First-born sons (or in this generation, first-born children) are supposed to fast from daybreak till the Seder.  

We first-borns are released from this obligation if we study Torah and then conclude with a “seudat mitzvah” – a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah, which means a commandment or a connection-making between ourselves and the Holy One of Being, the Breathing-Spirit of the world.

Why should we first-borns fast as we approach Passover? Presumably in grief, relief, and gratitude – grief for all the first-borns of Egypt, Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Place, who according to the Exodus story died that night, and in relief and gratitude that our families of the Godwrestling folk were spared the disaster.

So from 1971 or ’72 on, as I found my way through the Freedom Seder deeper and deeper into Passover and Torah, I have fasted –— or studied Torah – during this day, in honor of the ancient story.

But this year I am feeling a more personal grief. In some strange way I am no longer a “first-born” — because my younger brother died two years ago. Indeed, on his deathbed I said to him that he had become for me the older brother that he wished I had been for him. He nodded, using the little breath left to him: “It’s true.”

After "Sandy": We Need a Hurricane of Social Change

Suppose we were applying biblical theology to the events of today:
 
We might say that God listened to the two major candidates for President of the most powerful nation in the world refusing to say the words “climate change” or “global warming” in a single one of their major speeches and debates.
 
And then God, His face flaring red in hot anger, acting as King and Judge and Lord to rebuke their sin, would send their country an overheated storm to punish and remind them what is the greatest problem they should have been addressing.
 
Suppose we were instead applying a theology that sees the Divine Presence more infused in the world.  That understands “YHWH” as a Breath. (Try pronouncing it without any vowels.) Not just as a breath, but as the Interbreathing of all life. As a concise statement of the science that says: We breathe in what the trees breathe out,  the trees breathe in what we breathe out.
 
This theology fuses religious wisdom with scientific knowledge. Through this lens we see the interplay of Breath, this balanced interplay of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere, the very Breath of Life throughout our planet, as God’s Presence in our midst.
 
When human beings insist on overburning fossil fuels and thereby “breathing” far far more CO2 into the atmosphere than the trees and grasses can breathe in, this imbalance overheats our planet. It threatens the balance that makes life possible. It burns holes into the “YHWH” that is the Divine life-giving Breath of Life.
 
What we call the climate crisis is a crisis in the very Name of God.

Occupy Holy Week, Occupy Passover: Dancing in the World-wide Earthquake

Flyer  for Philadelphia event: Occupy Holy  Week & Passover, April 1

[Click on the graphic to expand it.]

Can Religion be Transformative?

Can we Empower the 99%, Democratize the 1% ?

Plans are under way in Philadelphia & New York City for an action to “Join with Occupy: Celebrate  Holy Week & Passover.”   People of faith could undertake actions like it all across the country.

Bin Laden & Beyond

How might we appropriately address the death of a mass murderer?

The Torah describes  Moses and Miriam leading the ancient People Israel in a celebratory song after the tyrannical Pharaoh and his Army have been overwhelmed by the waters of the Red Sea. Later, the Rabbis gave a new overtone to the story: “The angels,” they said, “ began to dance and sing as well, but God rebuked them: ‘These also are the work of My hands. We must not rejoice at their deaths!’ “

Mubarak's Quitting & Beyond: Hallelu-YAH! Dayenu! – And the next step ...

The Hebrew phrase "Hallelu-YAH!" means, "Let us praise the Breath of Life!" Sometimes the Breath/ Wind/ Spirit of the world comes as a Hurricane of change. We shake with awe. And if the Hurricane knocks down pyramids of arrogance and power, we can praise God in joy.

And so today, when a modern Pharaoh fell. Today, 8 Safar in the Hijri (Muslim) calendar; February 11, 7 Adar-Aleph, in the Western and Jewish calendars.

Hundreds of our readers and members this past week joined in writing President Obama to urge that he insist that Mubarak go –-  and take his vice-president, the Torturer-General of Egypt – with him.

 I am sure this helped. But only helped.  It was the nonviolent power of a people awakened, the Breath of the Egyptian millions breathing in nonviolent concert, that has taken the first step toward freedom. But of course that is only the beginning.

 There is a strange song in the Passover Seder that celebrates the overthrow of a Pharaoh. It goes:

If we had gotten to the Red Sea but it had not split to let us through, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

If we had gotten to Mount Sinai but no Torah had been revealed, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

And so on for 15 verses, each ending with the chorus, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

At first reading, this seems ridiculous. It would NOT have been enough.

But on deeper reflection, we realize that after every victory, we should pause to celebrate. Another verse will come, another step must still be taken.  But if we never celebrate, we will burn out before we can take the next breath, the next step. "Dayenu" in the song is like Shabbat in the week. Pause, sing, dance, catch your breath, reflect, learn, love. The work-week will come, must come, soon enough.  

The fall of Mubarak is only the beginning. Birthing an Egypt that is free and democratic, that does not build its government on American military aid, that can pursue a true peace with Israel that includes peace for and from and with the Palestinians led by their own freely chosen government (as Sadat of Egypt tried to achieve in 1979  but

was thwarted by Israeli Prime Minisater Begin)--  each step must now be taken.  

Birthing an America that will encourage a New Israel to be born that takes the birth of a New Egypt  as a signal to free itself from the iron cage of “stability”;

Birthing an America that does not build its own security abroad and prop up its own government's political support at home through hundreds of billions of dollars and gallons of blood in hundreds of military bases and decades of war, but can join at home and abroad in a planetary eco-community of sharing jobs and sharing wealth –--  these are still other steps to take.

Can we take a breath to notice -- that when the possibility of democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds is born, it is not at the point of American bayonets and "Predators" jammed down the throats of Iraqis or Afghans, but from

the grass roots of their own societies?

Everyone has noticed that the Tunisian and Egyptian upheavals have stirred new energy throughout the

Arab world.   I hope they are also stirring new thought, new energy, among many other peoples, including our own, to shake off the stupor brought upon us by our own Pharaohs –-  Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Army, and the media


that tell us that their control of us is for our own good.  

What is the sound of one hand clapping?  It is the joyful sound of Dayenu in one hand & the quiet persevering work of Not Dayenu in the other -– hand over hand, climbing Freedom's ladder; step by step, walking  Freedom's Journey.

Some might say: Better not to celebrate the fall of an enemy, even a Pharaoh. But especially when it

is accomplished by nonviolence so that not only his own first-born but all the first-born of his country are NOT slain,   it might be instructive to reread the song Moshe & Miriam led on the other side of the Re[e]d Sea: Exodus chapter 15: “Horse and rider has God hurled into the Sea!!!”

The midrash teaches that God forbade the angels to celebrate, but only because Pharaoh and many of his soldiers soldiers died: "Are not these also the work of My hands?"  All the more may even the angels dance when so few have died in winning transformation!

With blessings, especially joyful tonight at this moment of Dayenu, for shalom and salaam; for a true peace rooted in justice and in truth --   Arthur

Freedom Songs and the Exodus Story

Tales of the New Hassidim: Part 2

Rabbi Arthur Waskow tells the story of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, his own small role in seating their delegation, and the impact of her activism and leadership on his own life.

This is the second in the video series "Tales of the New Hassidim," Rabbi Arthur's own story-telling of moments he lived through, alongside others, in shaping the movement to renew Judaism as an instrument to heal the heart and the world

"Avatar," Exodus, & Kabbalah

The film AVATAR weaves together what we usually call the spiritual and the political. Indeed, whether its director realized it consciously or not, AVATAR echoes two major strands of religious wisdom that began in Jewish thought but have had deep influence on cultures far beyond the boundaries of Jewish peoplehood. The two strands of ancient wisdom are "archetypal" -- that is, they appear over and over again in human thought because they arise in human experience and yearning -- with or without conscious transmission of the stories.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Beshallach