Friday, May 18, 2012

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Behar-Bekhukhotai 5772–Scared of Leaves Redux

Just three years ago I wrote a musing for this parasha that beckons me to share it again so soon, with a little tinkering here and there.

It's familiar ground we've been over before. The postscript to the holiness code reminds us that we have free will, and that if we follow G"d's ways, we will reap reward, and if we are disobedient, then we will incur G"d's wrath. I'm not here to debate the relative merits of the "scare them into submission" or "obedience reaps reward" techniques. That's a discussion we've had, and can have again at another time.
This year, I want to grab a little piece of the text and twist it and reshape it to become a metaphor for our own times. Among the chastisements we receive for disobedience would be weakness of will and an abundance of fear. As the text says

וְהַנִּשְׁאָרִים בָּכֶם וְהֵבֵאתִי מֹרֶךְ בִּלְבָבָם בְּאַרְצֹת אֹֽיְבֵיהֶם וְרָדַף אֹתָם קוֹל עָלֶה נִדָּף וְנָסוּ מְנֻֽסַת־חֶרֶב וְנָֽפְלוּ וְאֵין רֹדֵֽף

As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as from the sword, they shall fall though none pursue.

This is the fate that will befall the Israelites if they continue to disobey and spurn G”d. A wrathful G”d will beset the people with calamity after calamity.

Here, the driven leaf is an inconsequential thing. The slightest noise will send the people into a panic.

The image of that driven leaf appears again in Job, though in this case, Job sees himself as the windblown leaf, blown to and fro by G”d’s whimsy, already tortured and worn out. Job wonders if it is fair that an already tortured leaf should have additional tortures.

Will You harass a driven leaf? Will you pursue dried-up straw (Job 14:35)

I'd like to suggest the we (and I include myself in this) have come to a place in history where once again, the sound of a driven leaf is enough to send us fleeing, or send us into a panic. (And some of us are asking Job’s question as well. But more on that later.)

It stared years ago, and has been continually exacerbated. The cries of doom and gloom in the Jewish community have been reverberating for so long that they are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Yet they still manage to stir up panic. With each new panic, another set of suggested cures.

Our Judaism is dying. This will fix it.
Jewish education is in a shambles. This will fix it.
Synagogue memberships are declining. This will fix it.

Well, I've got news for all of us. Most of the suggested fixes haven't worked. (As a result, we become even more cynical about the next set of proposals.) Of course, they haven't worked based on the yardstick we have established. Maybe it's not the ideas, but the yardstick that is flawed.

While it may seem odd to want to return to a system in which, with each new King or Ruler, the measure of a foot or a cubit changes, there may be some ancient wisdom in that. We may be measuring our success and failures on the basis of feet or cubits from the previous dynasty.

At the drop of a hat, with the mere sound of a blown leaf, we set off in a panic to right what is wrong with Judaism. What's our hurry? It has taken us thousands of years to get where we are. Judaism has changed and evolved quite a bit over that time, and it no doubt will change just as much over the next few thousand years. Why are we measuring things in terms of weeks, months, years, or even decades, when we ought to be thinking much longer terms?

What we need are tools that will help us persist and adapt as necessary over the long term, not short-term fixes that will bolster our numbers. In some ways, Judaism is making the same mistake that has brought our economy to the brink of collapse, looking for the quick buck.

As I mentioned earlier, there are those among us who are voicing Job’s question – will G”d heap even more tribulations on our already weakened and windblown state of affairs? Yet feel the irony in this question. Here we live in an age in which the Jew has seen unprecedented success (though admittedly, the Jew has also seen unprecedented cruelty.) Yes, economic times are tough, and synagogue membership is in decline, and something appears to be ailing Judaism, or at least parts of it. (There is still continued growth in the orthodox world.) Nevertheless, one would think that, given our success, we would have all the means at our disposal to fix what ails us. To some extent, I believe that we do. We just aren’t allocating our resources the right way.

Of late, I've been quite the pessimist. I've become increasingly concerned for the future of Judaism. Am I being reactive to the sound of blown leaves? I am beginning to think so. Time to take a longer-term view.

My friend and teacher, Joel Grishaver recently wrote on his blog the article “Not All Hebrew Schools Suck.” He reminds us that we do have resources at our command, and he suggests that not all is as hopeless as many have suggested, a point with which I agree and I am making in this musing.) He also deals with the question of allocation resources. I commend his thoughts to you.

Though G"d provides a fairly long list of calamities that will befall us if we do not follow G"d's ways, in the end, G"d promises to remember the covenant made with our ancestors. Now that's thinking long term. Maybe it's time to stop being frightened at the sound of blown leaves, get out of panic mode, and take a good, long, hard look at what the futures holds, and how we might best be prepared for it. In the meantime, we should chill out a bit, get out of panic mode, take a deep breath, and move on. What better time for that than Shabbat?

Now is not the time of year to hear the voice of driven leaves. It is a time of rebirth and renewal. We hear the voices of newly grown leaves rustling. Take a moment this Shabbat to go and listen to the voice of the leaves, and be reminded that it is not something that should cause us to fear or panic. It is the sound of life. The sound of hope.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 (portions 2009) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)

Behar 5765-Ki Gerim v'Toshavim Atem Imadi
Behar 5763-Ownership
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd

Bekhukotai 5771 - The Long Road Ahead
Bekhukotai 5765-I'll Take the Hard Way
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is So Very...
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities

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