Thursday, December 7, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeishev-Spirals

A decade ago I looked at the words of Amos 3:3 (from the haftarah for this week’s parasha, Vayeishev) and worked to find an expansive meaning in its words:

Can two walk together without having met?

I argued, at that time, that superficially it might seem like bit of a “doh” statement, but if we consider how we define the term “meet” there is lots of room for broader understandings.  I wrote:

It all sort of depends on how you define "meet."

In our increasingly self-absorbed society, now exacerbated through the proliferation of iPods, cell phones, PDAs, etc. it seems perfectly possible to walk together without meeting. Thousands, perhaps millions, do it every day - on sidewalks, buses, subways, airplanes, etc. Not to mention people playing in virtual realities and simulations.

Now let's take it into another setting. Thousands, if not millions, sitting in synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, etc. They are there, ostensibly, to encounter G"d. Yet I've little doubt that, for many, they and G"d might be walking side by side and yet never meeting.

Through the prophet Amos, G"d tries to tell us that we can't really walk with G"d and not meet G"d; still this seems the reality for so many. Why is this so? Is it perhaps because we enclose ourselves in those same little walls, boxes, boundaries that we use on the subway, the bus, the elevators, standing in line, etc.? How else could we wind up not meeting the ones we are walking together with; or the One we are walking together with?

Is it possible one could walk together with the One and not truly meet each other? To make it work, we (and that includes humans and G"d) must be open to the encounter; must be walking unencumbered by distractions, so that one is noticing only their walking partner and the beautiful scenery which surrounds them,

This Shabbat, take a walk together with someone. Truly together, truly "meeting." Try it and see how it feels. Then, perhaps, you might be willing to try the same "one on One."

They say "walk with G"d." Better yet, meet the G"d of your understanding while walking together with the G"d of your understanding. Who knows-your understanding just might change.

It’s always fun to look back at my own thoughts and examine how they shift in an ever spiraling pattern. Over the years,  I’ve protested against the prevailing insistence that smartphones and tablets are the harbinger of the end of civilization, or, at the very least, the idea of face-to-face relationships. I have written, both before and after that musing 10 years ago, that more travels through the ether of the internet than mere bits and bytes, and that virtual community and friendship need be no less real than face to face – and as the technology improves and gets cheaper, this becomes increasingly so. If I look to interpret my own words from a decade ago, I can see that I did, at least at a subconscious level, work to not make technology a villain in the scenario I was creating. I am sure now that all the things I suggested we could do to escape from our “walking together without meeting” are possible not just face to face. but through the use of technology as well.

If we take a Buberian understanding (greatly simplified, I admit) of the value and purpose of relationship to others and to G”d as “I-You” as opposed to “I-It” there is no reason to suppose (or insist) that face-to-face interaction is, perforce, superior in accomplishing this. The medium is not the message here.

I think there is a deep lesson here for all of us to consider in terms of how we dialogue with others – especially those with whom with we disagree – on Facebook, Twitter, et al. I do not have to approve of the beliefs and opinions of others, nor do I even have to accept them, but I should work to treat them not as an object, a foil, a stereotype, but rather as another human being (no matter how deplorable I might find them.)  I will admit that I struggle with this in our present climate. It is difficult, at times,  to respect people who hold views that I find hateful. Words and actions that set off alarm bells ought not to be ignored, Response is effectively obligatory.

This line of thinking, however, leads me to another verse from this haftarah that I wrote about just five years ago.

When a ram’s horn is sounded in town, do people not take alarm? (Amos 3: 6)

When I wrote about this in 2012, I mused that we had become a society that ignores the alarms constantly blaring in our world. I wrote:

Sadly, again, the answer is no longer the obvious one that the haftarah expects. It's due to a combination of factors. First, we have now lived through centuries of people crying "wolf" when there was no wolf, so we have developed a tendency to ignore the warnings.

Second, we have become a society that, at least on the surface, utilizes technology to help insure safety. When fire alarms go off, despite all that was drilled into us as children in school, we don't all drop everything we're doing and go rushing into the street as quickly as we were taught. We have become complacent, arrogantly sure of our own safety. We are convinced that the alarm is meant for others and not for us.

Third, every time an alarm is sounded, there are people who shout loudly that the alarm is premature, or based on inaccurate information, or is unnecessary or reactionary.

And I stated:

Ram's horns are being sounded all around us, every day. Rather than ignore the din because there are so many, because we don't believe it's real, required, necessary, because we don't think it is calling to us, maybe we need to start listening and heeding. Yes, perhaps discernment is needed, or we would spend our entire life responding to alarms. However, our world is pretty messed up, and maybe there's a good reason so many alarms are being raised simultaneously. We ignore them at our own peril.

Dare I eisegete into my own words and suggest I might have been prescient – that the alarms for what is now happening in our country and the world were already ringing back in 2011?

The problem, in our current situation, is that the alarm is being raised on a daily basis (sometimes even several times a day) and this has the effect of our coming to accept them as normal, or to tune them out. Even as outraged and worried as so many of us are, I am starting to see “emergency fatigue” and even a certain fatalism set in. (I was not at all pleased to read a pundit suggesting that the liberal cause has had so much trouble organizing itself effectively that a second orange term is likely.) We must not fall prey to this fatigue. We must be ever vigilant, defenders of truth and righteousness. We must be as Amos assumed we would be and be alarmed whenever the ram’s horn is sounded.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayeishev 5777 - Unspoilers
Vayeishev 5776 - Revisiting Mikol Hamishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeishev 5775 - Seriously...Who Was That Guy?
Vayeishev 5773 - K'tonet Passim
Vayeishev 5772 - The Ram's Horn Rag
Vayeishev 5771-Ma T'vakeish?
Vayeishev 5768 - Strangers Walking Together
Vayeishev/Hanukah 5767-I Believe in Miracles
Vayeishev 5766-Who Was That Guy?
Vayeshev 5761 - In Gd's Time
Vayeshev 5765-Mikol HaMishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeshev 5758-What's Worth Looking After

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