by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom, Chaverim—
Our son, Michael, and I went to the “Summer of Love” exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco today. After a few hours of staring at Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelly’s Op Art posters, studying boldly embroidered 60’s Hippy Chic couture, marveling at photos and tales from the Acid Tests, I stumbled out of the museum, my head in a slightly disoriented psychedelic reverie. With my 20 year-old progeny at my side I had flashbacks of my own youth, 4-wheel driving right through the decorum and rectitude of American culture. I was a kid in 1969, and I vividly remember absorbing the rhetoric of the day, from “throw off the yoke of middle class values” to “make love not war”. And I know that had I read it then, I would have railed at the ideas that begin this week’s Parasha, Ekev:
“And it will be because you will listen to these Judgments and observe and do them that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness which He swore to your ancestors; and He will love you and bless you and magnify you: and He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain, your wine, your oil, your calves, and the herds of your flock upon the land that was sworn to your ancestors to give to you.” (Devarim 7:12-14)
Even now I read this stuff and I can feel my anti-authoritarian roots tingle a smidge. The idea that rules are to be heeded rather than broken, listened to and followed rather than being questioned and dismissed? I challenged it at every turn. And the idea that God rewards those who dutifully obey? That just added insult to injury.
For years I wore a button that read “Question Authority”. One day a guy who was at least 20 years my senior looked at the button and said, “So what’s the question?” I was like, “Huh?” He said, “Well, based on your button I take it that you are an authority on questions. So, what’s the question?” It was an amazing, slightly humiliating (but in a kinda good way) mind blowing moment for me. It never occurred to my 14 year-old mind that there could be another way to read that button.
Not surprisingly, flipping text is now a passion of mine, and Torah is the original psychedelic tome—its words spin and melt, its sentences twist and gyrate, its ideas slip and slide in and out of apprehension. This week’s parasha is a good example; its first line could also be read:
“And it will be that in the end (at the heel) you will understand the guiding principles of the rules and ordinances, and you will observe them, and you will do them; And The Mysterious Power that enlivens you will guard you with the same merciful covenant that was sworn to your ancestors.”
The Torah suggests that rules are neither meant to be blindly followed nor rebelliously broken—rules need to be understood. With study, contemplation and comprehension, one can respectfully break a law, or obey even if with some hesitation. At this stage in our American spiritual journey, we must reject the laws that destroy and wound our society, while we uphold the laws that bring us together in a covenant of mercy as did our tuned-in, turned-on and dropped-out, God-wrestling ancestors. We need to read the Torah with a sharp eye and an open heart.
This Shabbat, may we all deliberate on the guiding principles that compel our spirits and souls. May we listen more deeply and practice emotional flexibility. May we teach all of our children well. And, above all, may we create more peace, kindness and patience with our miraculous, messy, and so very psychedelic lives.