William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Take the call. Accept the charges

“They call me.” This is how gifted poet Amanda Gorman concludes a meditation she prays before she begins reciting a poem. Her ancestors, whose ride to freedom ‘broke their chains and changed the world,’ are calling her.

A rhythm of call and response is the beating heart of purposeful living. Some of your finest moments are provoked by prompts. The courage you mustered to stand on principle against the crowd. The way you showed up and stuck around when you got that late night call from a desperate friend. Sometimes our lives may be changed by these calls and cues.

Generally we get unnerved by things that are out of our control. Waking up with back-pain upends your weekend plans. A coworker’s comment ‘You look tired today’ sours your mood. Of course, sometimes a grateful text can sweeten your spirits. But what if you could strengthen your responsive instincts? What if you could sharpen your capacity to handle incoming jolts?

This is a lot easier said than done. We awaken today to the news of one of the worst peacetime death tolls in Israel’s history, the devastating loss of at least 45 people “who breathed and prayed and lived mere hours ago” as our friend and teacher Rachel Sharansky Danziger movingly expressed. They had taken part in last night’s Lag B’Omer celebration. Their families will bury them in the coming days. Agonizing. Asking ‘why’, and leaving this question unanswered, is our way of affirming the wrongness of a catastrophe like this. We inch forward to live the answer to a second question, ‘What then can we do? Such a response ripens with the passage of time.

A rhythm of call and response pulsates through the heart of a chapter in this week’s portion of Torah. Fifteen times in Leviticus’s catalogue of holidays we meet the Hebrew root (kara) for the word ‘call’ (Ch. 23). Days obtain their heavenly solemnity in response to a terrestrial call from human beings. Fifteen is a biblical number for ascending. Fifteen psalms of ascent accompanied the steps of pilgrims as they used to elevate to Jerusalem’s Temple. The chapter helps hone our resilient muscle memory for spiritually stirring occasions. In the wake of sadness, we rise, as we strive to dust ourselves off. This too is a required dimension of responsive living.

Once upon a time, telephone operators would ask, before putting through a collect call, ‘Will you accept the charges?’ Next time, try to take the call. In accepting the charges, you may find new ways to solace grief and nourish growth.

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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