20 August 2010

"Kindness and Compassion Freed Her"

10 Elul 5770

A famous Rabbi Nachman tale begins with the story of a king who had six sons and one daughter whom he loved very much.  One day the king became angry with the daughter and banished her to her room.  The next day when they went looking for her, they realized she had gone.  She had, apparently, been taken captive.  So the king sent his viceroy in pursuit of her and for years and years he failed to find her.  Sometimes he came close but could never fully heed the directions given to him in order to fulfill the requirements for freeing her from her captivity.  After many failed attempts, the viceroy moves in for a final redemption and Rabbi Nachman ends the tale this way:
The storm wind came and carried him to that place, bringing him right to the gate.  There were soldiers there, who would not let him enter the city.  But he put his hand into the purse and took some money.  He was then able to bribe them and enter the city.  The city was very beautiful.  He went to a wealthy person and bought food from him.  He would have to remain there a while, since he would have to use his intelligence and wisdom to devise a plan to free the princess.  The Rebbe did not tell how he freed her.  But in the end he did free her.
Rabbi Nachman didn't like to reveal the end of certain stories because he believed it would reveal the mysteries of the Messiah, carrying on a tradition of enjoining Jews to work for the Messiah's arrival without knowing fully who that Messiah was or when the Messiah would come.  Despite historical reports of his -- or any messianic leader's delusions of grandeur -- I like to read into these "unfinished stories" the unfinished reality of life that in fact keeps in the game, slogging along, working toward an allusive something that we are aware we may never achieve.  From one perspective, it seems futile to hope and pray for a messianic end while knowing that one will never in fact realize it; on the other hand, one has an image in mind of a potter at the wheel, making worlds over and over again.  The Sages thought as much, imagining God at the beginning of Creation forming worlds over and over again, tossing the rejects on the potter's floor, until coming to the realization that imperfection -- or, if you will, immutably eternal fallibility, is axiomatic to what life is.  It's telling that the Sages here argue that God also created teshuvah, or repentance, at the beginning -- before the world came into being -- recognizing that the mechanism of creativity would also require the mechanism to address the *wrongs* made alongside the *rights*. 

After Shabbat, we enter the sixth week since we commemorated the Destruction of Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av.  And Isaiah, the consoler of the haftarot in the subsequent weeks, pulls out all the stops this upcoming sixth Shabbat, with grandiose language of beauty and vision that give the lie to the skepticism of such above penned paragraphs.  Seeing the photographs of Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell announcing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is, for me, a moment of unmitigated joy (while remaining painfully aware of how quickly it can all go up in smoke.)  But the clay is not yet ready to be flung on the potter's floor, and so we ought to celebrate that despite the death and destruction wrought in the lives of Israelis and Palestinians since the last real efforts at bringing about peace, we have a moment to imagine the potential.  People have worked a very, very long time to get to this statement.  Give respect.
(Drew Angerer, NYT)
Isaiah says to a community still mourning its destruction "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Eternal is risen upon thee.  For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon these the Eternal will arise, and God's glory will be seen upon thee.  And nations shall walk at thy light, and kings at the brightness of thy rising." ( Isaiah 60.1-3)

The light does break through the darkness on occasion; it gives us hope, redemptive hope.  "Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, desolation nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise."  (Isaiah 60.18)

But that's next week--where Isaiah celebrates the perception that God did this all for us.   This week Isaiah cautions, arguing on a certain level that God has already made that redemptive promise, long ago at the floods of Noah and that any real, true destruction of the earth that has permanence will only come about of our own free will, not God's.  The potter destroyed once and for all--all present and future destructions are our own.

Responsibility.  Full stop.

"The mountains may depart," Isaiah says.  "And the hills be removed.  But my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall My covenant of peace be removed, saith the Eternal that hath compassion upon thee."  (Isaiah 54.10)

The Secretary of State said today about the peace talks, "Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles.  The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere."

Persevere with kindness and compassion--despite the century of hatred that has claimed too many lives.  It has been a monumental effort on behalf of this White House to get to this moment.  Despite the mad rush of hysteria that continues in our nation, one must pause to see progress and remark on the achievement of today.

This Shabbat I imagine Rabbi Nachman's tale with a slightly different ending:  "Kindness and compassion freed her--And alot of hard work."

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