27 June 2010

The Elusive Simple Truth

It has been told thee, O man, what is good
And what the Lord doth require of thee:
Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah, 6.8)
The Bat Mitzvah kid yesterday talked about Balaam and the difference between false and true prophecy.  She weighed aloud her understanding at this stage of her intellectual development the Biblical notions of time and history with what science and archaeology can tell us, and she talked about her aspirations to continue learning and pursuing the truth, wherever it would take care, having faith that the real conclusions, the right conclusions, would leave her forever linked with her people and her community.  I love giving these kids the opportunity to question it all--what better place to do that than in the synagogue, which then values their questions and hopefully keeps them connected to this important idea of Judaism.

Testing the historical or archaeological veracity of something is only part of the pursuit of truth.  The other test is whether or not the lessons and values stand the test of time.  So many of our Bar and Bat Mitzvah services now take place in the Temple House Chapel which has three stained glass windows with the words Justice, Mercy and Humility represented and this Shabbat it was particularly gratifying to connect the architecture with the moral archaeology of the prophet Micah's words, which closed the Haftarah.  I thought of all the babies and parents who come to Shir l'Shabbat each Saturday morning and wondered what questions those kids will ask about God, Torah, and Israel.  Look at that, I said to myself surveying a room of happy little kids--look at all those future questions!

Like we do at the end of each service, before Kaddish, we read names of yahrzeits in the Shul as well as names of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last week.  The names of soldiers this week were:  Russell Madden, Eddie Turner, Claudio Patino, Kevin Cueto, Andrew Looney, David Miller, Scott Andrews, Timothy Serwinowski, Brandon Silk, and James Hunter.

Ten names.  The pain that these ten names evoke is perhaps best described by Damon Winter's moving portrait on the cover of this morning's Times of Sgt Brian Keith with his wife Sara and son Stephen, just before Sgt Keith's deployment to Afghanistan.  A stirring, humbling image.
After services we made Kiddush, shmoozed, I dropped by a baby naming for wishes of mazel tov, and then went back for another Kiddush, joining Alt-shul briefly for theirs.  I saw so much joy and celebration on the Shabbat this week but felt troubled for some reason all day long by the ten names I read at Kaddish.  I don't know if it was because the week began with the President firing McCrystal and therefore opening up yet again the burning question of why we're in Afghanistan (because the Taliban is evil); or the anticipation of Netanyahu's trip to the White House and what new demands and questions those demands will yield for Israel; or the nonsensical hysteria of xenophobia that has taken over whole parts of the country when it comes to immigrants and the deafening noise of the discourse from politicians and commentators that makes me wonder if we'll ever be able to remain calm enough to find a solution to the problems that we face.  I have questions about Albany's enduring corruption.  Questions about what budget cuts will do to a city without pools and without bus-lines and with what we know will be over-crowded classrooms next year.

I mean, seriously:  there are so many problems.  Just pick one and work on it for awhile.  It'll be better than what we got, that's for sure.

And when you're confused about why you're doing it, remember that  in the heat of the Judean Hills more than 2700 years ago, a prophet of humble roots, who saw political and religious corruption all around him, cried out the obvious:
It has been told thee, O man, what is good
And what the Lord doth require of thee:
Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
 How does this simple truth continue to elude us for so long?  Another question, I suppose.

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