27 April 2010

Omer 28: Sacred Humbling

Omer Day Twenty-Eight

I was speaking with a young Latino man recently who discovered about five years ago that his family was actually Jewish. Conversos dating back since the time of the Inquisition, the family had melded into broader Spanish, then broader Latino culture, until mysterious Catholic practices yielded to questions and research and the realization that in fact he descended from Jews.

His observance began to change and with great excitement he began to display outward signs of his Jewishness. And though he can trace the covenantal lines down through his mother's side, he nonetheless wants to go through a formal conversion process in order to fulfill the completion of a journey.

It's a beautiful story.

We were speaking recently and he talked about how at the beginning of his journey, he was very judgmental of those generations that converted "out" of Judaism. He didn't understand their decision, what he identified as their lack of courage. But then, no surprise, as he began to dedicate himself to learning, he understood on a much deeper level the tremendous physical suffering that was endured by those who chose the martyred life and he knowing what he knew--that his line was maintained while for centuries his family went underground, as it were--he began to see their choices in a whole new light.

He laughed at his earlier position and dedicated words of somber respect for those who had made the choices that they made, preserving life and planting the seeds for his own discovery.

The Sages taught that when God commands the Children of Israel to put tzitzit on the corners of their garments, what they are really doing is "completing" that garment with a sign of the covenant, serving as God's partner in making life dedicated to the pursuit of goodness and kindness. God's tallit--"He covers himself with light as a garment" (Psalm 104.2) is completed by the commandment to humans to make tzitzit--"Speak to the Children of Israel and say it to them that they will make themselves fringes upon the corners of their garments for the generations of their descendants..."(Numbers 15.38)

It's interesting to imagine this particular mitzvah being given in the desert, on the escape from Egypt toward an as yet achieved habitation of the Promised Land.

I thought of the young man on his journey--and how each of us remain, to a degree, incomplete, until another generation comes along, perhaps centuries after our own lives, to complete work that we began.

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