Shabbat HaHodesh: Homelessness and Hope

On this Shabbat HaHodesh (The Month) we mark the first day of the month of Nisan, which, since it is the first of months in our calendar, is also the first day of the Jewish year. Happy New Year! Our people took their timing from the world around them, which renewed itself in buds of green and baby lambs at this time.
The return of spring and the longer, warmer days bring with them the opportunity to stretch, and relax, and hope again. This sense of renewal is so precious when we are able to feel it, and so necessary to our ability to live and thrive, that our ancestors wisely incorporate an opportunity for us to be mindful, and to be grateful, in our daily morning prayers: ברוך המחדש כל יום מעשה בראשית Blessed is the Renewal every Day of Creation. 
Everyone can touch this sense of beauty and meaning, whether one lives in an insulated house or in a tent under a bridge. Our sense of the history of our people and the culture of our experience is that of wandering and homelessness, and so we know that even in uncertainty there can be beauty, and even in misery there can be uplift. Flowers bloom freely; it is we who need the regular reminder to look at them.
This Shabbat we read parashat Tazria, which speaks of the seeding of new life, and the special role of the female whose womb is a conduit between the Source of All Life and the small lives of human beings. The most ancient level of our tradition seems to recognize the female infant as a double blessing for that reason. The Torah records our ancestors’ sense that the act of giving birth makes one tame’ – and here we are confused if we translate tame’ as “impure.” Yet it is a condition from which one must take time to recover, and so it may well be that a mother giving birth was standing in a place, as it were, which we normal mortals cannot access.
There is a parallel between the homeless human being under the bridge and the mother giving birth. Both are in a place of human intensity which is not easy for the rest of us to understand or with which to empathize. Like our patriarchal ancestors, who were quick to recoil in fear of what they did not understand and in which they could not participate, it is easy to see a negative difference here, and to fear an impurity of some sort, and to avoid contact with someone in such a state.

Yet the mother giving birth seeds the world with renewal; unless we can find it in ourselves to look more closely at the homeless refugee at our border, under our bridge, and on our street, we will miss the opportunity to discover what renewal of our own lives, and our world, is dependent upon what only the houseless person can seed for us.

If we look at the growing desperation of those living on the streets from a distance; if we take refuge in some explanation for their plight from which we ourselves are separate; if we refuse to look at them at all, we will not avoid the supposed contagion of impurity, but only make it worse with a rising tide of callousness. This is the impurity that recedes only when it is seized with compassion, with awe, and with the determination to find through that human touch a renewal of life for us all.

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