Drash Meets Mosh


If We Turn Down the Noise

Michael Dickel

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Energizer bunny, anyone?

Marshall Ganz, the son of a rabbi and a well-known and respected activist, often quotes Maimonides: "hope is belief in the plausibility of the possible, as opposed to the necessity of the probable." I've given it a try with Google search, but can't find the source, other than more references to Ganz or no reference, just the quote. But it's still a good quote. Hope.

As Jews, we have just come out of Counting the Omer, a time that could be a celebration of redemption from Egypt or of the grain harvest, but rather, is associated with mourning. It's complicated, but it has to do with a reference to Akiva's disciples dying in a plague during this time. Only his disciples? Yes.

Historically, it seems to be a veiled reference to Akiva and his follower's support of Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Romans and subsequent retribution by the Romans when the revolt failed. Rabbinical text says the plague came because Akiva's disciples didn't respect each other. It all depends on how you tell the story.

Ahead of us this summer comes yet another period of mourning that leads to the Ninth of Ab, the date according to tradition that all bad things happened to the Jews. The destruction of both the First and Second Temples and various other attacks, exiles, and mayhem all fall on this date, at least according to the Rabbinical literature, if not the historical. Traditional Jews don't wed during this time, refrain from celebrations, and even don't shave in the days leading up to the Ninth of Ab.

With all this mourning, why did I start with a definition of hope by a political activist-organizer? I started there because Ganz often uses this quote while discussing the power of public story telling. And I started there because it's too depressing to start out with mourning.

Let's look at Akiva a moment. Historically, he associated himself with Bar Kokhba, even calling him the Messiah. He joined the revolt against Rome and was, himself, burned at the stake for his efforts. This is activism at a very deep level. Akiva saw the yoke of Rome as a burden on the Jews. He and his followers paid a huge price. This is one story.

The other is that the followers of Akiva did not show each other respect. They competed for who had better knowledge, who had the favor of Akiva; they put down their fellow travelers. They did not respect differing views or opinions. In short, they had a fanatical desire to be right. This disrespect was a kind of plague, and they died as a result—they could not help each other. This is another story.

On the Ninth of Ab, traditional Jews tell the story of the destruction of the Temple, weeping as though it were yesterday. They live the story, in their hearts, and look forward to the restoration of Jerusalem. Of course, Israel now controls Jerusalem. The restoration they look to includes rebuilding the Temple, for those in the physical realm (a politically charged desire), but has more to do with the Spiritual Jerusalem, the Cosmic City that floats somewhere above geographical Jerusalem and resides in our hearts and minds. The City of revelation and learning. And tolerance.

There are those who argue that because Israel and Jews now control Jerusalem, it is time to reconsider the Ninth of Ab. Some grieve for the past losses in the morning, not wishing to forget. Then they celebrate that they are in Jerusalem, can go to the Western Wall freely, and that Israel exists, for the second half of the day. This approach makes sense to me—we are in Jerusalem now, so we don't need to say, "next year..."

As I write this I am coming out of the delicious desire of dairy delights and delectable learning called Shavuot. The news is full of stories of two U.S. political parties at each others' throats, complete with the trading of accusations from the serious to the apparently contrived to the ridiculous.

Is Obama asking Marines to hold umbrellas for himself and a visiting foreign dignitary really outrageous? Making it a scandal is outrageous…with people out of work, hungry, and the nation at war-s. Politicians on both sides have real work to do if they truly want to be leaders.

So, with all of this noise, "the necessity of the probable" right now seems overwhelming, unconquerable, un-moveable—heavy with inertia, apathy, and frustration fueled by anger, hostility, and greed.

Still, we do have a choice. To stay stuck in the mourning periods, or to tell ourselves our stories about "the plausibility of the possible," of cooperation, of reaching across difference. And this brings me back to Ganz and story telling.

What stories do we tell to ourselves and others? What are the Jewish values that we wish to live by? How do these stories activate and energize these values, make our Jewish values public, alive, and shining? Do we repeat stories of loving kindness (chesed), healing of the World (tikkun olam), and justice (tzadaka)? I could use the energizing. Could you?

The author of this drash, Michael Dickel, lives, works, studies, and sometimes teaches in Jerusalem, Israel. His book, Midwest / Mid-East, is available at this link: http://bit.ly/158lbnu)