04 October 2013

Make Us Whole

I'm always struck by those awkward moments when I see you but you don't see me and you're saying something nasty or doing something mean but then your eye catches mine, your demeanor changes, you smile and say, "Oh, hello Rabbi!"

I exchange pleasantries right back but sometimes I want to say, "Hey, don't do me any favors.  I'm not God.  Or your conscience.  Or a camera."  Knock it off, I want to say.  You know what you're doing and you know it is wrong.  In other words, don't put on faces--just do what's right.

But let's face it--sometimes I'm glad they saw me just so they can stop being mean to the person they're with, pause, re-consider their behavior and do a mid-course correction.  I mean, it's not like there's a God who will suddenly appear like a bolt of lightening and wake them up from their lugubrious slumber from decency.  Whatever works, I guess.

To the extent that one's prayer is meant to be an enactment of aspirational behavior, certain aggregate forms of anger and vituperation were hovering above my head like a dark cloud on Thursday morning, having read in the New York Times that as Affordable Health Care went into effect, millions of our country's poor went uninsured because Republican state governments chose not to extend Medicaid to those impoverished, often working people, mostly because the way the law was designed, written, passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President was meant to offer Federal subsidies for the poor and Medicaid expansion for the very poor.  But as we all have grown tired of hearing, our government is locked in a battle between a Republican party controlled by a fringe minority that is opposing the President at all costs--even to the radical disadvantage to the poor--in this case, 8 million people denied health care.  One middle age woman with high blood pressure who lives in Virginia is considering moving to Maryland and living out of her car--just to get health insurance.  Ted Cruz:  you hate the President that much?

Hatred of the President is so great that rather than talk to him, this democratically empowered rump group is taking out its anger on the least advantaged.  Kick the poor but smile for the cameras.  It's really quite nauseating.

At 7:15 am I was already riled up.  So I strapped myself in for the ride, tallis and tefilin like a mad man's constraints and words of the Psalms coursing through my veins:  "Halleluyah.  It is good to sing Psalms to our God, it is pleasant to praise Him.  The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathers Israel's dispersed.  He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.  He numbers all the stars and gives each one a name."

Metaphor.  ME-TA-PHOR.  The mantra of praise.  Don't get caught up in whether or not God hears you or whether or not you actually believe in a God who hears you.  That doesn't matter right now.  What matters is that you say nice things.  The cognitive behavioral therapy of saying good things even when you're thinking bad things.  Say good things with all your breath it might turn out to be true.

You have a nice sun tan, Mr. Boehner.  You sure are passionate about your beliefs, Mr. Cruz.  Would you like to have lunch sometime?

Let's face it:  these characters don't body-check each other enough.  Isn't their a bowling alley in the White House?  A basketball court?  Wasn't there a Beer Summit once?  Why just once?

Open your mouths and smile--not to your constituents or your donors or the cameras--but to each other.

I once fantasized that if I ever ran for Congress, I'd host a regular text study on Capitol Hill.  Being the only rabbi in the House or Senate, it would be an interesting novelty to practice the pluralism I love so much in serving the Jewish people and teach it to these men and women on the Hill.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Native Americans, Atheists, Agnostics--all serving the American people and sitting around the lingo-vocal plurality of Jewish text.  They'd see that God has many faces, many voices.  Just like the American people.  They'd understand that there is more that unites us than divides us, as they say.

I suppose we'd also eat.  I'd teach Michele Bachmann to pronounce "shmear" properly.  Angels would sing.

There I was in our Shul at 7:15 am.  Reading that "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds."  I was wondering who pays for that?

Our CBE Feeds program started up again on Wednesday.  We're back to feeding 500 people a day.  Are things so bad that we have to think of opening a health care clinic, too?  Hey, we'll do it if we have to; but is that really our job?

Could be a good text study on Capitol Hill.  In reading Psalm 147, the Sages suggest that when the Psalmist writes, "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds" it's a healing in response to the destruction of Jerusalem, caused  in no small part, the Sages continue, by the "free and causeless hatred fellow Jews had for one another."

In other words, if people in Congress could actually speak to one another and identify what unites them in service to our country, rebuild their city, gather in the dispersed sent away in anger--they'd heal one another from their own senseless destruction, and prevent themselves from truly undesirable result of their mutual hatred--which is the poorest of the poor denied basic health-care coverage.

When God decides to obliterate the face of the earth with an enormous flood in the Noah story, the text in Genesis attributes this divine decree to God's telling Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth."

The Dubner Magid, a Hasidic master, taught that this is like when someone hosts a huge banquet with the finest foods that, sadly, descends into a massive, greedy fight over what is laid on the table.  So the host removes everything, saying, "With an empty table, there's nothing to fight over."

Of course, those at a banquet generally are used to having enough to eat.  So while the government shutdown may be like the empty banquet table, quietly humbling our civil servants into the embarrassment over their fight that may get them back to compromise, to pass laws, and to get things working again, the poor stand on the outside looking in, waiting for the relatively wealthy among us to cease their games so that the business of taking care of the least advantaged can get back on track.

What did the Magid of Mezeritch say about the earth being filled with violence in Noah's time?  "The sin of the generation of the flood was that the people preferred the 'earth'--their material wants--to their idea of God and a higher calling.  They made their own materialism the most important value and holiness secondary."

Holiness, however we may define it, makes clear demands:  It heals the broken-hearted.  It binds up their wounds.  And this, like the mythic idea of Jerusalem, makes us whole.


Daniel said...

I'm close to weeping. I love this Psalm, and I love your midrash on it.

EK said...

Hi Rabbi

Thanks, I really enjoy your have political rants and Torah lessons that accompany them.
Come for the politics, stay for the Psalms! Or sages, etc it's all good.

When the Democratic Speaker of the House says “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it”, what do you expect? When the problem the bill addresses can be stated in a sentence “There are people that need health insurance that can’t get it”, why is the solution a 1000+ page document? Why not just 1) subsidize the poor with better more available Medicaid (or give voucher for private coverage) and 2) subsidize individuals with pre-existing conditions. Sounds simple, right?

You are angry, and you should be, but instead of thinking you’re angry because you imagine Republicans (or entire states of republicans) enjoying sick poor people dying, maybe you’re really angry because you were duped. Can I guess you were pretty happy when the ACA passed and the Supreme Court upheld it? Because it was good for people, right? So there must be some explanation why some people are now worse off than before, right? Yes, REPUBLICANS!!!

The Affordable Care Act is not really about healthcare, is it? Why were the first things it did 1) a tanning booth tax (maybe to annoy Boehner?) and 2) having almost (what used to be technically) adults be able to cling longer to their parents provisions. It’s just politics. Check demographics, produce some slogan, give to the right constituencies, get votes, repeat. I glanced at the NYT headline and map when I was in line for coffee. Here goes the Times again I thought, this time blaming that people are worse off with ObamaCare on the Republicans WHO BY THE WAY DIDN’T WANT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

I hope this has been a productive dialogue. And I hope you keep writing and praying for the good things we need: peace, comfort, healing, learning, and repairing. And I hope your prayers are more powerful than your politics.