We live in times when vital needs of the most frail are deflected by self-indulgence, when grave race-based wrongs are minimized, and when ominous worries about the economically vulnerable are laughed aside. And now there’s a new virulence, one that heaps insult onto harm. Today’s culture of disposal is descending into one that favors flagrant humiliation. Dehumanization is trending.
Pamela Paresky recently brought to light findings that “engaging in public shaming makes us seem more trustworthy to our in-group.” Alarming. Yet even milder forms of intimidation are keeping free minds from expressing honest ideas. Caitlin Flanagan’s tweet this week captured it best, “I’ll tell you what I think when you tell me who else thinks it.”
How can our authentic dignity be reclaimed? Guidance can be found in this week’s portion of Torah with the ordination of Joshua as Moses’s successor. Joshua is uniquely described by the Torah as a ‘person of spirit’ (asher-ruach bo) (Num. 27:18). He is a learner and a servant; a covenant-fulfiller and a covenant-renewer in the Book that bears his name. Most of all, Joshua radiates presence. And it is toward such spiritual indwelling that we now turn.
God’s living breath can be found deep with us. “It may be stirred” reflects Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “to become an aspiration strong enough to give direction and even to run counter to all winds.”
A final thought. Why is Joshua ordained before the end of the Torah’s fourth book, so far in advance of his assuming leadership at the conclusion of book five? To reveal how presence works. It isn’t noisy. But it carries a surplus of substance.
As we humbly avert our gaze from screen time and turn our hearts upward this Shabbat, may we reactivate our most tender loyalties. And may our authentic voices reverberate in ways that make us all feel better protected, respected and connected.