Provocation to Vocation

Robert Frost reminds us that “Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance.” Well, the prose of living deserves a different punctuation – one whose nutriments flow from moments of trust and resilience.

Daily we are fed doses of drama and division. And as salacious as carving up our opponents may feel, we thirst for nutrition that can be found beyond gluttony. Contending with difficult people should have more than one move: boycott, cancel, and make go away. Can we do nothing more than avoiding or snubbing?

This week’s portion of Torah admits other another possibility.  Befriending those who are unlike us is associated with greatness. “The great, awesome, mighty God who transcends bias, who is just to the widow and orphan, befriending ‘the unlike’ with food and clothing.  Therefore, you shall befriend those unlike you because your Egyptian suffering taught you how painful estrangement can be” (Deut. 10:17-19). Although it’s natural to like those who are like us, there is nothing inevitable about those unlike us being unlikeable. Indeed, our vocation is to do the very opposite.

The sages note the proximity of opposites in this passage. God’s might derives from attention to the meek.  Loftier influence comes from association with those who lack it. So too we can respond with inversion.

Our People’s essence has always been to go against the herd. At our core, we are contrarians.   As today’s algorithms continue to fuel long-division, we deeply know that there is nothing fruitful in multiplying our disassociation. Our actual enemies delight in making us strangers to ourselves.

Misdirection, when noted, can serve to set us back on course. May downgrading provocation serve to restore our higher vocation. And may we come to realize that the deeper we dig, the higher we vault.

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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