Because What Do I Know about Love
Except that we are at sea in it
– and parched for its lack?
Let down your buckets, my dears.
Haul up the sweet, swaying spill.
Tilt your face to the stream.
the dripping dogs to shake themselves among you.
Flood the decks; fill the cisterns.
Then drink, and find it fresh.
You have sailed all unknowing
into your home river.
The Israelites have left the building! and are making their way in the trackless wilderness, as the prophet Hosea calls it. Almost immediately they begin to complain, and, dangerously, the complaining becomes panic. It’s an immature, emotional response, and both of our “parents” – HaShem (who is new at this, in the imagination of the Torah’s narrative) and Moshe – are dismayed.
וַיִּשְׁמַ֨ע מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־הָעָ֗ם בֹּכֶה֙ לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֔יו אִ֖ישׁ לְפֶ֣תַח אׇהֳל֑וֹ וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֤ף ה֙’ מְאֹ֔ד וּבְעֵינֵ֥י מֹשֶׁ֖ה רָֽע׃
Moses heard the people weeping, every clan apart, at the entrance of each tent. ‘ה was very angry, and Moses was distressed.
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־ה’ לָמָ֤ה הֲרֵעֹ֙תָ֙ לְעַבְדֶּ֔ךָ וְלָ֛מָּה לֹא־מָצָ֥תִי חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֶ֑יךָ לָשׂ֗וּם אֶת־מַשָּׂ֛א כׇּל־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה עָלָֽי׃
And Moses said to ‘ה, “Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me?
הֶאָנֹכִ֣י הָרִ֗יתִי אֵ֚ת כׇּל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה אִם־אָנֹכִ֖י יְלִדְתִּ֑יהוּ כִּֽי־תֹאמַ֨ר אֵלַ֜י שָׂאֵ֣הוּ בְחֵיקֶ֗ךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשָּׂ֤א הָאֹמֵן֙ אֶת־הַיֹּנֵ֔ק עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖עְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָֽיו׃
Did I produce all this people, did I engender them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nursemaid carries an infant,’ to the land that You have promised on oath to their forbears? (BaMidbar 11.11-13)
It’s a time of fear, in which there’s a natural emotional inclination to withdraw: to go from the generous expansion of joy to careful, asset-hoarding contraction. Maybe there isn’t enough to go around.
The astonishing resilience of traditional Jewish teaching reminds us that another, higher response is possible. If your faith is strong, it’s okay if you are also feeling anxious, afraid, or overlooked, because if your faith is strong you believe in something beyond the evidence of the moment.
That’s the moment when, according to the classic Jewish discipline of musar, one finds refuge in a love greater than human, more powerful than even that of a community – especially one that is temporarily in disarray. This is where the individual must see oneself as that, individual and able to resist the groupthink of the community, and consider another perspective.
There was a parent who had a child. The child was bathed, anointed, fed well, and a purse of money was hung around their neck. They were then placed at the entrance to a garden of all earthly delights. What could that child do but sin? – Eliyahu Dessler, Perspectives of Mercy
This story is told to explain why the Israelites, given everything, voted against their own interests and built a Golden Calf. This religious vision of mercy which overcomes judgment and anger is beyond mere human capacity; it is the kind we call aspirational, that which we hope to be capable of one day, once we figure out how to balance the tidal tugs of emotion which cloud our judgement daily.
This Shabbat is a wonderful time to practice expansiveness and generosity of joy in the face of our justified fear and anxiety about the future. There is a love that exists beyond our capacity to love, but which we are invited to immerse ourselves in as the waters of a Mikveh. It does exist, and we can choose to be part of it.
Anxious voices in the U.S. have sought to define the scheduling of Pride Shabbat on what has become the Federal holiday of Juneteenth as racism. What is this if not the fear that there is not enough love and attention to go around? But life comes at us fast, and not in order, and not coherently. And Rabbi Dessler reminds us that we are not left to our own devices: as part of a community of faith, we can remind each other that having the courage to be loving and open will result in more love in the world, more than we can possibly summon on our own.
Happy Pride Shabbat! May you learn something new about the nature of HaShem through being open to more and more of the gorgeous human diversity of humanity. Shir Tikvah has discovered that to seek all 70 faces of Torah is only possible using the lens of Queer Theory.
Happy Juneteenth! May you delight in discovering the inspiring offerings of the members of our community who are Jews of Color, in Portland and around the world. You can start here:
Happy Father’s Day! To those who have been privileged to exist as a father, whatever shape that relationship has taken for you. Parenting is difficult! But as Moses and HaShem discovered, it is also a most rewarding experience, where there is the hope, always, of enough love.