From upheaval to higher ground

I came to this Conference “to remind you how quickly things can change.” British MP Joan Ryan shared these words with proponents of the America-Israel alliance (AIPAC) this week. She recently left the Labour Party because of odious anti-Semitism. 

Seismic shifts in ideological momentum do happen swiftly.  Personal losses also make sudden intrusions. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, two of Aaron’s children abruptly lose their lives.  Their attempt to bring an unprescribed offering proves fatal (Lev. 10:1-2).  Creative expression is praiseworthy.  It can even be God-like.  But not for the Priests of an ancient Israel surrounded by Paganism.   

How may we respond to sudden reversal?  This week’s sacred texts make available two ways of recovery.  The first seeks to re-establish order.  We regain our footing when we can distinguish between the essential and the trivial, between the enduring the ephemeral.  The balance of the Torah portion focuses on distinctions; sacred vs. profane, pure vs. defiling.  Rebalancing requires bringing order out of chaos, as God did long ago by bringing the world into being.

Helpfulness also comes through hopefulness.  The special Prophetic passage this week embraces the potential of personal transformation.  “And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ez. 36:26).  Israeli Legal Affairs expert Tal Becker strives to enact this approach by “believing in the permanent possibility of the presently unimaginable.”

Stability and quietude are scarce in and around Israel these days.  When missiles fall, not in open fields or near major cities, but upon a family home in the heart of Israel, self-defense is required. Israeli Labor Party veteran Einat Wilf superbly summarized this week the bleak predicament on the Israel-Gaza border.

When disarray and despair prevail, order and hope ought to be granted admittance.  Together they may yet guide our steps from upheaval to higher ground.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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