Hope is a Commandment of the Heart

Dark Clouds over Tel Aviv

I changed recently the cover photo on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/RabbiJohnLRosove) to the image here of the winter sky hovering over the Mediterranean Sea that I took eight years ago from the Tel Aviv shore. It suggests, I believe, what we are facing today as a world-wide community. On the one hand, the sky flows between dark and light grays. Yet, waiting to burst through the cloud cover is sunlight.

We are most assuredly living in dark times, but light shines in the extraordinary deeds of loving-kindness performed by courageous health care workers on behalf of the sick and dying, by those reaching out by phone, text, email, and social media to maintain connections with single isolated people (young, middle age, and senior), by the many front-line workers sustaining our communities in vital jobs, and by many of our nation’s governors, mayors, and members of Congress working on behalf of the safety and sustainability of all (American citizens and non-citizens alike). Collectively, they remind us, if we need reminding, that we “are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” (Dr. Martin Luther King, March 31, 1968).

I don’t recall who wrote the following, but its wisdom is worth sharing:

“Hope is a commandment of the heart in the face of uncertainty, a vision that opens up the future, based on trust, supportive of purpose, enabling us to live in an enhanced present of constructive waiting.”

 

 

Heritage – by Hayim Gouri – Yom Hashoah 2020

Five years ago, I led a Jewish tour of a number of Central European cities with members of my congregation. As historic and meaningful as those cities are in Jewish and European history, the ghosts of millions of murdered Jews haunted me everywhere. The memorials for the Jewish victims overwhelmed me with sadness at our people’s enormous loss in that darkest era in Jewish history.

The Akedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac – Genesis 22) came to hold new meaning for me since that tour, powerfully captured here by Hayim Gouri in his poem “Heritage.”

“The ram came last of all. And Abraham / did not know that it came to answer the / boy’s question* – first of his strength when his day was on the wane.

The old man raised his head. Seeing / that it was no dream and that the angel / stood there – the knife slipped from his hand.

The boy, released from his bonds, / saw his father’s back.

Isaac, as the story goes, was not / sacrificed. He lived for many years, / saw what pleasure had to offer, / until his eyesight dimmed.

But he bequeathed that hour to his offspring. / They are born with a knife in their hearts.”

זכרונם לברכה

*In Genesis 22:7 Isaac says, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the young beast for the sacrifice?”

Hayim Gouri, a renowned Hebrew poet (1923-2018), served in the Palmach, the Haganah and the Israeli Defense Forces. After the war he was sent to Europe where he visited Displaced Persons’ Camps. He wrote of the ordeal for survivors in seeking to reconstruct their lives in the so-called normal world, in the Hebrew novel, The Chocolate Deal, New York, 1958.

From Holocaust Poetry, Compiled and Introduced by Hilda Schiff, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), p. 5.

 

 

The Sun of Auschwitz – for Yom Hashoah 2020/5780

“You remember the sun of Auschwitz / and the green of the distant meadows, lightly / lifted to the clouds by birds, / no longer green in the clouds, / but seagreen white. Together / we stood looking into the distance and felt / the far away green of the meadows and the clouds’ / seagreen white within us, / as if the colour of the distant meadows / were our blood or the pulse / beating within us, as if the world / existed only through us and nothing changed / as long as we were there. I remember / your smile as elusive / as a shade of the colour of the wind, / a leaf trembling on the edge / of sun and shadow, fleeting / yet always there. So you are / for me today, in the seagreen / sky, the greenery and / the leaf-rustling wind. I feel you in every shadow, every movement, and you put the world around me / like your arms. I feel the world / as your body, you look into my eyes / and call me with the whole world.”

Tadeusz Borowsky (Translated by Tadeusz Pioro), from Holocaust Poetry, Compiled and Introduced by Hilda Schiff, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), p. 119.

Tadeusz Borowsky was a Polish poet and prose writer (b. 1922) in Ukraine. He was imprisoned in Dachau and Auschwitz (1943-1945) but survived by helping, in a lowly capacity, to administer the death regimes in these institutions as did many other survivors. Having survived the war and given expression to his agonized view of the human condition, he committed suicide in 1951.

 

“Coronavirus: The Haredi Response in Israel” – Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, Editor-in-Chief, “Tzarich Iyun”

Half of all those hospitalized with coronavirus in Israel are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jews).

The key questions before the Haredi community (11% of all Israeli Jews – about 800,000 people) are who gets to decide public policy and who has the authority to determine the regulations with which all must comply?

Some of the basic principles that underlie the Haredi response to the virus that Rabbi Pfeffer elucidates include “suspicion of the State and its institutions, isolationism from non-Haredi society and culture, and a strongly institutionalized society. They are certainly not the whole.”

This article (5000 words) is long, but it is an inside look at how the extremist Israeli ultra-Orthodox community thinks vis a vis Jewish law and the secular state, and how the consequences affect all Israelis and the Israeli health-care system.

I am grateful to Rabbi Uri Regev, the founder of Hiddush in Jerusalem, who sent me and a few other rabbis this piece. It is an important essay.

https://iyun.org.il/en/article/coronavirus-the-charedi-response/

A Most Remarkable Act of Global Solidarity

“When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don’t say to yourself, ‘It looks like the end of the world.’ What you’re seeing is love in action. What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for the immune-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet.

People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk, or on your way to the store, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all that love.

Let it fill and sustain you. It isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.”

“Coronavirus Crisis: A Different Way to Look at these Empty Streets,” author unknown, This is Glamorous, March 30, 2020

“Bosch” to drop on Amazon – April 17 – Comedic Teaser written and produced by my son

“Bosch,” Amazon’s retro-noir contemporary police drama set in Los Angeles, starring Titus Welliver as hard-driving LAPD detective Harry Bosch, is one of our favorite series, adapted from the Harry Bosch novel series written by Michael Connelly.

My son David, a social media producer at Amazon Prime, wrote and directed this funny teaser focusing on “Detective Coltrane.” David appears ala “Alfred Hitchcock” twice (he sits at a table and walks in front of the dog). Enjoy!

https://twitter.com/boschamazon/status/1249004782775234567?s=21

“Coronaviorus – Out of Many One” – by Tomas Pueyo

Entrepreneur Tomas Pueyo offers a comprehensive analysis of the pandemic covering every concern and issue as thoroughly as any I have seen. It is filled with graphs and explanations of those graphs, and he offers conclusions based on the history of pandemics generally and on the one we are facing now specifically.

This article is worth sending it to your congressional, state, and city representatives. If you know anyone in the Trump Administration, send it to them as well.

https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-out-of-many-one-36b886af37e9

Reflections on this Passover – 2020

Dear All:

This is as difficult a year to celebrate Pesach as any of us born after WWII has ever known; but this year is not an anomaly in Jewish history. We’ve known as a people years of suffering before that the Haggadah itself documents in Midrash, rite, ritual, and song. As we do every year, we ask especially now what is the meaning of Passover.

The traditional Haggadah has a statement inserted during times of great oppression that calls upon God to “pour out Your wrath” upon the enemies of our people who caused us such suffering. Many modern Haggadot, however, deleted this reference and replaced it with “pour out Your love” upon Your people and all peoples, especially upon those suffering from oppression, illness, and want.

That being said, it’s entirely appropriate for us to be angry at those federal, state, and local government officials who have been derelict in their duty to follow the advice of medical experts and scientists who early on advocated taking aggressive steps to stem the tide of this pandemic and thereby protect, as much as possible, the well-being of our citizenry. Though many of our nation’s governors, mayors, health-care professionals, first-responders, and community leaders have stepped up to protect us, history will judge harshly those who failed to be the leaders we so desperately need.

Our Seders should include prayers for the healing of every person across the globe who is ill with this virus. Here is the shortest prayer in the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 12:13) that Moses offered on behalf of Miriam who had been struck with leprosy – “El na r’fa na la – Please God heal her.” We can put it into the plural for all those afflicted – “El na r’fa na lahem – Please God heal them.”

This year our Seders likely will be the smallest gatherings we’ve ever experienced. But we can still  celebrate our festival of freedom and renewal, be grateful for our families, friends, and tradition of hope, and say dayeinu – that may be enough.

Hag Pesach Sameach.

Tainted Wheat, Shabbat Hagadol, and Rachmanim b’nai Rachmanim

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810, Ukraine) tells the story of a wise king who told his prime minister, “I see in the stars that everyone who eats from this year’s grain harvest is going to go mad. What do you think we should do?”

The prime minister suggested they put aside a stock of good grain so they wouldn’t have to eat from the tainted grain.

“But it’ll be impossible to set aside enough good grain for everyone,” the king objected. “And if we put away a stock for just the two of us, we’ll be the only ones who will be sane. Everyone else will be mad, and they’ll look at us and think that we’re the mad ones. No. We too will have to eat from this year’s grain. But we’ll both put a sign on our heads. I’ll look at your forehead, and you’ll look at mine. And when we see the sign, at least we’ll remember that we are mad.” (Source – Sipurim Niflaim)

This story describes well what can happen to normal people who are assaulted constantly by the tainted grain of stupidity, ignorance, incompetence, and cruelty. They either assume these qualities themselves, or to protect themselves, they disengage and become indifferent to truth, competence, and human kindness.

I’ve thought often of Rebbe Nachman’s story these last 3 plus years of Trump’s presidency. The story suggests the only way that we can understand why Trump’s political base continues to support him and perpetuates his ignorance, denial of truth, and immorality.

Thankfully, the mainstream media, many of our nation’s governors and mayors, scientists, and health care professionals are telling the truth about Covid19, and we are able to witness the goodness, kindness, courage, and decency of so many everyday Americans, most especially those on the front lines helping the sick and dying. That’s the good news, that most Americans did not eat the tainted grain, that as a nation we remain compassionate not only to those we know among our family and friends, but of others.

This Saturday is considered one of the two most important Sabbaths in the Jewish calendar cycle – the other is the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as Shabbat Teshuvah (“Sabbath of Repentance”).

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol – the “Great Sabbath” – as it comes just before we celebrate Passover, a holiday that focuses our people’s attention on the importance of human freedom and the virtue of nurturing compassion in our ourselves and in the hearts of our children.

The Jewish people are traditionally called rachmanim b’nai rachmanim – compassionate children of compassionate parents – and so we are taught to care not only about each other, our families, and our people, but all people. That is who we are. And that is who Americans are. Thus, no tainted grain ought to corrupt us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach.