Juneteenth and hopeful pivots forward

“The desire of one to remember nothing and the tendency of the other to remember too much has rendered communication between them difficult.” Sound familiar?  Gifted writer Ralph Ellison’s words from his Juneteenth novel depict a disheartening 1950s conversation that feels as current as this morning.

We all root for progress.  43 of the 47 States which have formally recognized the observance of Juneteenth have done so since the year 2000.  An increasing desire to value the historical 1865 moment in Galveston Texas  – when Union General Gordon Granger proclaimed all slaves to be free – feels particularly important.  Still, tense conversations about the past seem easier than impossible conversations about the present.

Destructive difference is also on hand in the chapters of Torah we find ourselves learning these days.  This week’s portion features the Spies failure which will doom their entry into the promised land.  Successive generations will enjoy its bounty thanks to the leadership of Joshua and Caleb, along with the persuasion of Moses and covenant-honoring ways of God,

A subtle point contained in Caleb’s full Hebrew name, Calev ben Yefune, Caleb child of ‘one who pivots’, can be suggestive. Progress is often spoken of in terms of ‘revolutions’ and ‘awakenings’. Yet pivots are more reliable than U-turns.  They’re less dismissive of the past and less susceptible to forthcoming reversals. The roadway prohibition of U-turns in congestion is more than a matter of driver safety.  Perhaps it alludes to alternative ways to get going in a better direction.

Consider how the Torah this week pivots from a painful passage toward an inspiring one.  We would have expected a struggle to restore confidence in the covenant.  Instead we watch its reach expand.  A single standard for offerings will now apply to resident and stranger alike (Num. 15:15,16,29). The text pivots from the abyss by moving to higher ground.

Rabbi David Wolpe has taught, “To be chosen isn’t to be better than others. It is to be called to be better than one currently is.”  May each of us choose helpfully in coming days and weeks.  And may our pivots forward inspire more hopeful times ahead.

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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