William Hamilton

Practical spirituality

Things seemed ok in the Torah reading cycle, even orderly. Then, out of nowhere, we experienced unrestrained conflict, rage, dejection, and doubt. Sound familiar? Alas, today’s newsfeeds stalk us. Contempt has claimed our search engines. We wish the hideous falsehoods about our people were blunted by overuse. But they sting every time.

Of course, Israel is far from perfect. Just like us. Uncommon incidents of Jewish retaliation require our condemnation. We wish she had better leadership. But it’s important to recall that Israel is the most lawfully established nation on earth – ratified by the League of Nations, by the United Nations, and, more often than not, by individual purchase and sale contracts. Her Mashav Development Corporation has, since its inception, extended life-saving support to more than 140 countries all over the world.

In our scriptural portions, rattling times are quieted by an ingathering of spirit (ru-ach) (Num. 11:17, 25, 26, 29, 31). The word spirit appears at beginning of the Torah’s first portion, while the word favor appears in its final verse (Gen. 6:8). This week’s prophetic message confirms this sequence. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says God” which will ultimately be greeted with shouts of ‘Favor, Favor’” (Zach. 4:6-7).

How does such spirit work in practicality? First, it resists those who insist upon solutions. It prefers to think instead of ahead-days and behind-days. Second, it urges you not to take your moral temperature by placing the thermometer on someone else’s body. It invites you to trust your own moral timber. Third, its equanimity reminds you that you get to decide when and when not to respond. Pick your spots and make your moves as handsomely as you can. Fourth, it asks that you honor and make space for your feelings. And it encourages you to do this for others – when possible. Fifth, it asks you to recall that those committed to violence and those committed to nonviolence reside in very different places. Our aim is to grow the latter cohort, while not averting our gaze from the peril of the former.

Rabbi David Wolpe eloquently reminds us today how we unearth our lasting love for our ancestral, current, and future homeland. That love is dear and precious to us. It’s about deep affection whose beating heart feels tender and trusting. Like every love, it has no need for pitchforks or pruning hooks — because it is unrelated to contest. When the loves of others clash, it is spacious enough to commit to harm-free coexistence.

Finally, that divine spirit reminds you to never forget that you belong to a people whose spiritual storehouse contains a royalty of resilience and moral discernment. We’ve had to pass tests like this before. May these spiritual goods again grant us the wherewithal to do so again, and soon.

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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