09 July 2010

Who Says to Wood

For Jeremiah to work for you, you need a personal and historical sense of consciousness.
It's a tall order but it's worth it.

First, you have to be prepared--to stand to be accused.  That's alot of infinitives, I know.  But let's face it--Hashem is alot of Infinity all wrapped up into history and personal development. 
"Thus saith the Eternal:  What unrighteousness have your fathers found in Me, that they are gone far from Me, and have walked after things of nought, and are become nought?  Neither did they say, 'Where is the Eternal that brought us up out of the land of Egypt; that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt?"  (Jeremiah 2.5-6)
There great danger for American Jewry is that we're all personal development and no history.  Which is to say that when we create religious and spiritual communities that are all about personal growth and development, about mindfulness and wellness, you can't really be in a relationship with a God who can accuse you of doing anything, right or wrong.  Jeremiah's God in the haftarot leading up to Tisha B'Av is a God of accusation; a God of searing moral perspective; a God who intrudes upon one's willed ignorance and demands historical consciousness, a relationship with a particular narrative, and the covenantal agreement to take personal responsibility for one's life and one's society. 

To read him now--particularly with Israel in historic crisis and with our nation torn among its leaders over which *America* we actually are yet to be--is to be reduced to the elemental tears of previously hidden but now exposed, inescapable truth:
As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests and their prophets; who says to wood, 'you are my father?'  and to a stone, 'you have brought us forth.'  For they have turned their back on Me and not their face; but in the time of their trouble they will say, 'Arise, and save us.'  (Jeremiah 2.26-27)
And here the Sages, in their wisdom, skip to words in the following chapter of Jeremiah, concluding in the Ashkenazi tradition, "Did you not just now cry to Me 'my father,' you are the friend of my youth." (Jeremiah 3.4)

One of the things that keeps me up at night is the deep fear that this narrative may one day disappear not only because it will no longer be read; but it will not be heard, it will not be felt, it will lose its ability to have impact, to draw blood.

Pedagogically, in the Jewish community today, there are two fundamental group education experiences that create hearing, and feeling, and bonds of blood:  Camps and Israel.  The synagogue, when it can convene around real life events--brises, namings, bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals--and infuse them enough depth of narrative to keep people reading and seeking and hearing and telling, then we stand a chance to pass on those narratives to another generation.  But when the events of the life cycle become privatized moments of personal ritual expression, one can imagine--devastatingly so--the great jeremiads of our existence falling on deaf ears.

Who says to wood you are my father?
Did you not just cry out to Me, 'my father!'

Which is it for you?

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