Today this country marks Veterans Day, honoring all those who fought and those who fell serving this nation. Veterans Day was declared in 1954, renaming an existing day of remembrance known as Armistice Day which marked the moment in which the “Great World War,” as it was then still known, came to an end: 11am on 11/11, 1918.
Shortly after the Great War, a Jewish mystic living in Poland penned a manifesto, opening with the first line from the Genesis saga that will be chanted in synagogues this coming Sabbath. The saga is the story of Abraham and his family, leaving behind the familiar homeland on a journey to a new reality, home and destiny.
Lech Lecha: Go, go to your self, leave behind your father’s house, your land, your birth place, travel to the place that I will show (Genesis 12)The Divine voice calls to each human being at all times and in every place: Leave, mortal one, please leave. Leave the desires by which you are clinging to matter, leave the habits that keep you tethered to a world limited by the senses. Leave your pride, your family heritage, your superstitions and old convictions, leave and seek yourself an ancient land, a higher land, a land of heavens. Where will you seek it? Where will you find it? Go and search…“Go from your land.” This verse bangs on your head like a hammer! Not just every heart’s desire and stubbornness but every belief and opinion by which most humans live must be rejected!For what are most people’s beliefs and opinions? People believe that their country is completely unique and all should be done to ensure its success and survival. They believe that for the homeland’s sake everything is permitted – brothers’ blood is spilled for this supposed good of patriotism…‘From your homeland’ – Even those who are free of patriotism cannot detach themselves from the slavery of Nationalism. The sense of Nationalism attracts one with illusory cords until it is all one sees. If one’s nation is convinced of some faulty opinions and viewpoints – the individual will stick to the same ones. If one’s nation controls other people, governs them fiercely, conquering and breaking them, one thinks it is a sacred duty to participate in this national task.Then, the Divine word comes again to the human: GO… cling only to what is good and sacred in your nation, but not to its ego – not to its desire to conquer, not to the hunger for power.‘To the land that I will show you’ – What is the main goal of the divine soul? To seek the absolute, divine, good. It is impossible for the soul to seek this good while immersed in pseudo-good, which is what seems good to most people but not to those who sit in the world’s shadow, the dwellers of the mist, the seekers of truth.… This verse, told to Abraham, is told constantly to all dwellers of this earth, but their eyes and ears are shut. The divine voice penetrates the entire space of the world and still most are deaf to it, only few unique ones are gifted with the ears that hear, so that they will hear and listen, listen and think, think and know, know and do.”Hillel Zeitlin, Inside the Orchard of Kabbala and Chassidut (translation by Amichai Lau-Lavie)
What we now need are honest conversations about our values, our fears, our hopes and our intentions.
Time for action, protest, and whatever else is needed to protect the safety, dignity, and human rights of everybody in this country is coming, and very soon. But as we digest the shift that has engulfed us I invite us to prioritize the time and place for simply letting us hear each other with deep listening, patience, and respect.
But now we stood there, eye to eye – a black female Brooklyn born poet and teacher and a white gay Jewish guy – both sobbing. “This now is the truth,” Tracy said. “Just you and me here, looking at each other, honestly, and pained, and present. This is truth, and this is victory and all those screaming screens with numbers and projections are not truth, even if it’s reality.”
Of all the things from that long night, I cherish that one moment. I take Tracy’s truth, our backyard circle, Zeitlin’s words and those of Genesis as a radical reminder on this day: Honor the path, be in the present, and boldly go beyond the familiar, nostalgic and sometimes toxic public fabric of reality. We are invited, called, and instructed to engage in sacred conversations with each other, finding truth in our stories and refusing to get sucked into the frenzy, panic, and rage.