2018-11-07 / Voice at the Shore

In gratitude of healing

By RABBI GERALD R. FOX For Voice at the Shore

RABBI GERALD R. FOX RABBI GERALD R. FOX Are you tired? I know I am.

I hear from so many of you and from family, friends, and colleagues, a collective exhaustive sigh that amounts to a nonverbal, “can’t we just get along?!”

However we think about our community or the debates being voiced in the public square, everyone I have spoken to in recent weeks (months, actually) is craving a fulsome dosage of old-fashioned gemilut hasadim, loving-kindness. This core Jewish value, along with the guidance that Judaism and the Jewish Year Cycle offers, comes none too soon.

Each one of us has now begun our journey through the year ahead in earnest, putting in place the plans we developed during the High Holy Days season. We may be unsure of how the narrative of the next year of our lives will turn out; we may even remain unsure of its navigational arc, but we are faced with the basic question that will be measured again next year: Will our path lead us away from our past mistakes or will we be slowly drawn back to habits we had hoped to leave behind?

Luckily, this is not left to fate alone. We are in control of much of our destiny. We have free will and, with a few blessings here and there, the wherewithal to exercise some level of control over the outcome of our lives, particularly with regard to the path we choose ahead of us. We must begin making those choices one at a time, but first we need to take a measure of where we are and what values we want to implement going forward.

The incessant and often sensibility offending discord we experience these days has left many among us exhausted and confused. I think we would all agree that the cultural landscape is changing at a rapid rate, and that, in very tangible ways, this only breeds a mounting anxiety that we will not be able to keep up, and certainly not with the ease we have navigated our lives up to now. It is ever the more important, then, that we rely upon our most precious inheritance: A timeless and authentic wisdom provided to us by our ancestors and conveyed through our holy texts and traditions.

We want to see the best in others and not to assume the worst. Our heritage affirms this and teaches us to do the very same. We want to be close to others and not to be separated from our family and our neighbor, even from our community. Our holy texts direct us to find a way to remain in relationship with our neighbor. We want to see our flaws and those in others while still being able to embrace them in love. Judaism teaches us to maintain our perspective and to keep in mind that we are all made B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. So, all that is left is the “where” and “when.”

We have at least two opportunities this month that allow us to share in dually public and private experiences that help to define us as Americans (and Jews): Election Day and Thanksgiving. As we take part in these iconically American adventures, we will engage with a range of people. It is up to us to take these engagements seriously, as well as our role in making them successful. Doing so requires us to practice one of the most fleeting arts of our day: Developing and sharing an honest desire to listen and to hear. This is the beginning of the Jewish value of compassion and, that, in turn, is the foundation of loving-kindness.

As we engage in the act of keeping our eyes on the prize— a generous and sustaining, longterm healing for us and those around us—we must see ourselves in others and vice versa. In so doing, we cannot miss the mark for the year to come, bringing all of the best of ourselves and the wisdom of our heritage into our world.

This…this, is the manifestation of envisioning and living a spiritual life. Now, let us go and learn, practice, and become.

May we find the strength to bring forth holiness in our lives and into the world around us by bestowing and receiving the blessing of being heard, being seen, and being accepted as we strive toward our best selves. 

Rabbi Gerald R. Fox is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine and president of the South Jersey Board of Rabbis and Cantors.

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