Needing An Early New Year

       Concerning the Boston Marathon bombing, my daughter recently sent me an anonymous mother’s comment: ‘I have a son, and regardless of what he’d done, it would kill me to think of him terrified, bleeding, vulnerable and at the end of any promise in his life.’

       My mind flashed to a story I know from Bible studies. The Hebrew people, led by Devorah and General Barak, are at war with the Canaanites.  Judge Devorah’s attendants suggest that the Canaanite General, Sisera, is busy plundering the villages of their people and invading a womb or two while at it.  We know where the abominable evil is here, so when the Hebrew maiden Yael sneaks into Sisera’s tent at night and puts a nail through the General’s head, we cheer a heroine for the ages. 

       But centuries down the line, the Rabbis are trying to write a companion for the Bible that will accompany the Jewish people as they are spreading about the globe, one that will help them survive as a culture that places the highest priority on moral caring.  Why survive if we must lose our souls in doing so?  In the Talmud then, this story becomes one where we are asked to picture Sisera’s mother, standing on a balcony, watching the parade of the Canaanite soldiers returning, looking out eagerly for her son, a heart full of love… and gradually realizing with each minute and passing figure below that he is not returning… and then… she weeps… and weeps… and weeps… buckets of inconsolable, hot tears.    

       The Rabbis are telling us this tale of Sisera’s mother in that part of the Talmud, the Biblical companion, that guides the New Year or Rosh Hashana observance.  They ask us, even this very year as well as all those in between, to feel this mother’s sobs, yevava, each of the hundred times and more that we hear the shortest and sharpest of the three sounds of the shofar, the teruah, during the month before and on the Holy New Year’s Day. {T.B. Rosh Hashana 33b}

       In addition, the Tradition reminds us that if we follow the genealogical line of Sisera we come through those centuries to the astonishing sight many years down the line of the son of converts to Judaism who is becoming one of the greatest teachers of Jewish history, Rebbe Akiva.  How many many lives have been steered well by his insights concerning righteousness, and how many yet to have been born will as well be blessed by the clear light of his teachings concerning caring living. 

       And as well of course, since the New Year marks the birthday of the world and Adam and Eve {T.B. Rosh Hashana 27a}, we are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters, all, a family, {which of course becomes a story Darwin and Wallace tell as well in their robust 19th century variation on the theme!}

       General Sisera was attacking the Hebrews, but still the Rabbis on Rosh Hashana, the birthday of our family, want this identity as us from those First Births to be as integral to our identity here in this moment of the 21st century as we can possibly make it.  The Creation Story celebrated in Rosh Hashana is unique amongst creation stories for it does not feature epic family conflicts, such as the Greek’s where Zeus defeats his father Cronus who had defeated his father Uranus, or the Babylonians where the chaos monster, Tiamat, gives birth to a generation of deities whom she soon declares war on before being slain by the storm-god Marduk.  My goodness. 

       The Genesis tale is nonviolent, and in addition, holiness is not situated in any particular people who happen to support Marduk or Zeus, but is a possibility offered to each and to all… for we live not just for the purpose of individual realization but with a communal covenant as well, a charge to work with one another while expressing the great Divine attribute of caring.

       Who did the bombing?  Well, we can start throwing out all those words—a jihadist, Chechnyan radical, Right-Wing Patriot Groupie, Immigrant, the bumbling FBI, a welfare recipient, a gun control advocate, a member of the NRA—and manage to get more and more entangled, as if America had entered a seven hundred million legged sack race and was trying to rise as 350 million of us tied together at the thighs only to fall and fall and fall, getting more and more knotted and frustrated, and then punching and kicking like fans desperate for the exit at a soccer stadium in Accra, Ghana in 2001 or ‘celebrating’ at Fenway Park in 2004.

       If we let the spirit of the New Year speak, we’d engage in all this work of analyzing and parsing out factors and issues of justice concerning the Marathon Bombing in a fashion that is truly for our sake, as the Original Soul of humanity whose ‘us’ is an ‘us’ that cares for and includes us all without the hatred that clouds our lives. Raising ourselves to the work spitting venom and gnawing splinters keeps our eyes distracted from the prize of us as us doing something for the sake of making our kind peace-loving and other-affirming.  Using these horrible occurrences such as the Twin Tower Destruction or Oklahoma Bombing as saddles to mount for raising our hating to new heights—which we surely do and even encourage each other to do, a bizarre comradery of supported hating—is expressing a dark spirit.  Watching a city and nation taken by that dark spirit in the recent documentary, Central Park Five, I felt ashamed of myself.

       If we go about the process of striving to understand as fully as we can, from the deep roots of what drove the terrorists to do what they did to issues of how best to protect and prevent as the Original Soul of humanity whose ‘us’ is an ‘us’ that includes us all… including those mothers who go right to our hearts… then we are far more likely to take steps and do justice that is truly for our sake.

       Rosh Hashana is also considered the Day of Judgment.  There is a wonderful sentiment concerning our need to be busy caring for each other and allow God to take care of judging; but we know as well that God calls us to instantiate and implement a justice system, the call that is appropriately front and center today in the aftermath of the bombing. 

       We need to be clear-eyed and high-minded.  In our world, as tonal languages incline folks towards Perfect Pitch, so those people who speak direction-oriented languages, such as Australia’s Pompuraaw, are inclined to what we consider a rare gift, Dead Reckoning.  Put them in a box, send them to a remote region, twist the box around, let them out, and they’ll head straight home as surely as a Carrier Pigeon!  Studies have indicated that the key is less mysterious then we might think—they pay attention, they keep track.  It is a kind of attention to orientation and direction that has been practiced for so many generations that it is simply done without even having to much pay attention to the fact that you are paying attention. 

       But perhaps the real key, at least for us who are trying to put it in words, is what one researcher who spent months and months there trying to acquire the skill for herself, came to: as she is walking along as the bipedal creature we are, gazing ahead, she began to realize that there was a new extra window, a console above, which was giving her a bird’s eye view, a panoptic on the landscape she was walking at the same time, a view that included herself and all of us.  When she tentatively asked a Pompuraaw to comment on what she experienced, he looked at her with a kind of shy disbelief and said, ‘Well of course.  How else would you do it?’

       Perhaps we need this ability, to walk ahead clear-eyed into the demanding work of justice ahead even as we keep the higher view of us as us, the single Being named Humanity in focus as well.  Why survive, the Rabbis wondered, if the survival results in our becoming like those who vanquished.  The Talmud aimed to help us keep an eye, level and lofty, on ourselves. Perhaps all I’m suggesting here is that we try to allow the vision of us as us to be part of the process.





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