Engaging vs. Enraging
Should I join the protests?
When Shabbat ends things get hectic again. Nevertheless, for people who observe Shabbat, a clear distinction between the holy and the mundane can be felt, as if something special and unique ends.
When my friends and I walked to the synagogue shortly before Shabbat ended, we saw other people walking towards a communal gathering as well. Our gathering was prayer while theirs was a demonstration for democracy. I couldn’t resist smiling when I realized that for them, the special and unique event has just started while for us it slowly ended. In recent weeks those demonstrations became some sort of tradition, and I don’t know what I should do. Is it right to just listen to their chants for peace and democracy but not get involved myself? Am I obligated to do something about the apparent theft of democracy? Somehow those questions reminded me of a particular memory of a past Shabbat.
We were listening to the reading of the Torah which is always followed by a blessing for the one who is called to bless on the Torah. This person can include people’s names to also bless them. Some do it and some don’t. But what happened in this synagogue in Jerusalem was new and even a bit shocking for me. The guy mentioned the name of a then less popular politician named Smotrich. I asked myself: How can he bring politics into this holy event? Six days long we scream and fight about who is right and who isn’t, and on the seventh day, this guy has to continue! What a shame. But the chants of the democracy-seekers after Shabbat made me think and forced me to change my views.
My realization was that religion should not be segregated from other areas of life. On the contrary! Faith in G-d which is what authentic religion is, should very much concern all areas of life, including politics. That’s how it used to be and basically, nothing changed. So, when we are praying in our synagogues while others are preparing for another demonstration, we better pray for democracy as well, or even better, for the truth to prevail, even if that means that a guy mentions Smotrich in his blessing. I don’t think that G-d’s blessing would harm him anyway. But what’s clear is that for religion to be authentic and not fall into absurdity, it must include every matter of life. In other words, if I care about the developments in my country, it is the most basic thing for me to pray for it. So much to this experience.
I still have open questions. Let’s say democracy really is in danger and the protestors are right. In this case, praying alone is not enough. We would all be obligated to do something about this negative development. But then I thought, am I not doing enough already? Do I not have an impact on my whole community when I go and pray with at least ten men three times every day? Or when I go and distribute food to people who need it? When I talk to my friends and family? When I talk to so many people, I encounter every single day? Not that I would do all the mentioned, but ideally that’s what a G-d-fearing person would do. Let’s think further. I could join the protests. But what exactly would I change? The government? Even if the mission succeeds, democracy is saved and politicians are replaced, how would my community, and for that matter everyone’s community, the most direct and important structure of our lives, be changed? Do politicians have a direct influence on our communities? The answer is clear: No, they don’t. Every involved person in a community has more influence on the community than any politician out there. We smile at each other every day, we support each other when we need it, we eat together, we celebrate together, we live together and we grow together. And if my community is thriving, it will shine its light on the neighbouring communities and so on. Jews who lived in countries with the worst governments imaginable that oppressed and murdered them could still experience moments of joy and happiness. Not because political developments allowed them to, but because of friends and family who supported each other. Eventually, every individual and their community can positively influence their country and not the other way around. Change starts in the heart of individuals; it cannot be forced.
When I go and demonstrate I might contribute to a short-term improvement of the political landscape, and this might even be praiseworthy, but I won’t change the communal landscape. What really matters is how I behave towards everyone and everything in my environment. And this is, I think, long-term thinking, sustainable and where I should put my focus on. This happens every time I pray with others and engage with the smallest matters in a G-d-fearing and humble manner. Shabbat is the epitome of such conduct when we are forced to focus on what matters. When Shabbat ends, we slowly realize that something unique and holy is leaving us.
You could still argue that I could do both, demonstrating and engaging in communal affairs. And I would have to agree. But when you are more excited about demonstrating than about engaging with your community, or if you think of one as the other, I would strongly disagree. In other words, if one is working more on one’s personal and communal growth than one is trying to change the political landscape, it is probably even good to be engaged in both ways. However, this is not the impression I got over the past few weeks.
When my friends and I were walking to the synagogue while others were marching toward democracy, I felt two opposing forces who do not seem to think alike. One was marching towards engagement and the other one towards enragement. Which one is the way to go? I tried to make sense of the situation. It is up to every person to do the same.