Why a robust center matters

The Children of Israel in this week’s portion of Torah are utterly depleted, “our soul is disgusted (katzah) by cursed bread” (Num. 21:5).  The People are at the end (katzah) of their rope.  What else could prompt them to call cursed bread that which they once appreciated as heavenly Manna?  Extremism, related to our Hebrew word katzei, is neither reflective nor spacious.  Its makes up for a deficit of generosity with a surplus of ferocity.

In the wake of yet France’s most lethal terror attack on its most important national holiday, the quest for causes and cures feels familiar.  But what is now clear, as each week produces raw and ruthless evidence of depravity, is that the texture of extremism is not expansive.  When it snaps too many die too soon.

A shortage of spirit pervades on the extremes.  By contrast, a robust center draws nutriments from inclusive streams that flow from a partnering spirit.  Where the center holds wells of responsiveness and generosity reliably surface.

This week in Dallas, two national leaders eloquently implored us toward empathy’s robust center. “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions” said Former President Bush.  While President Obama urged us toward the biblical Prophet Ezekiel’s challenge to acquire a new heart, “With an open heart we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right.”

Contrary to common assumptions, passion and intense conviction do pulsate powerfully in the center.  Feeling fiercely is not exclusive to extremists.

We love it when people apply nuance to our views.  Returning the favor is not as costly as it may appear to be. Generosity of spirit is faithfully rewarded.  There are no limits to what one may receive by giving.  May tens of millions from Dallas to Nice continue to personally embody the soft and radiant glow of a soothingly spacious spirit.

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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