Redeeming the shards of hatred and division
This is a reprint of the Yom Kippur drash by Laura Goldman
I think for most of us, the world feels less safe this Yom Kippur morning than it did when we were together this time last year. I am certain there have been more tumultuous times in the history of humankind, but for most of us here today, I would venture that what is happening to our planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants leaves us shaken in a manner to which we are unaccustomed.
I am aware that for many of us, particularly people of color, our Muslim brothers and sisters, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, women, and so many others, we have seen on the national and worldwide stage an overt and sanctioned expression of an undercurrent of fear, hatred and divisiveness that has always been here, waiting to break out.
And for us as Jews, that undercurrent includes an anti-Semitism that touches a place of rawness and trauma. The ground feels less solid under our feet, and even if our previous stability was an illusion, it was an illusion we had come to count on it.
That feeling of fundamental unsafety is like a deep deep cold that seeps into our bones and clings to us. We are dislocated, on edge, waiting for the next outrageous, enraging development. At times I catch myself looking over my shoulder, second guessing, wondering which side of this glaring divide the grocery clerk or the dentist, or the police officer is on, will I offend or be offended, how do I respond wisely, can I depend on foundational values and rules of behavior that I thought we had settled and agreed upon long ago?
And through the throes of my disequilibrium, I recognize that this is the sort of experience that many among us have lived with their entire lives, looking over their shoulders and wondering if their freedom or their very lives are threatened at any moment. I am shaken from the fog of my insularity and complacency by the drumbeats of hatred, and the world can feel broken and shattered into a million pieces, and the shards are flying around, jagged and sharp, and dangerous.
Well my friends, our tradition has a lot to say about shards and about what we are to do with the splintered remains of a colossal rupture:
In the Jewish mystical tradition we have a creation myth, and in this story God contracted It’s presence in order to make room for Creation, for the world. And simply put, this contraction, this TsimTsum as it is called, left a residue of Divine light that was to be contained in vessels which, it turned out, couldn’t completely contain that light and thus shattered, scattering shards with traces of Holiness throughout Creation. And, according to the narrative, it is our job, yours and mine, to find those shards and to redeem them, to bring the Tikkun, the healing, that will reveal the holiness throughout the world, and restore what is broken to wholeness.
There are shards, jagged and too numerous to mention, in the wake of the division and injustice we see all around us, not least of which is the exposure, and therefore the possibility of addressing the fear and hatred which has long lurked under the surface.
But the shard whose inner light shines the brightest to me on this Yom Kippur, and the shard that seems so ripe for our redemption is the piece of this experience that allows us, forces us to see how much we need each other, how connected and interdependent we are, how much what happens to you impacts me, and how much, if we’re gonna get out of this mess alive, we need to work together and be there for each other.
It is we who will build the sanctuary of safety and refuge, it is we who will open its doors in kindness, compassion, and inclusivity. Because there is only one thing worse than feeling threatened and unsafe, and that is the illusion that we have to navigate that hazardous territory alone. It has always been our centralmost Jewish commitment to care for, and care about the stranger, the poor, the vulnerable. And why? Because we know what it is like to be vulnerable. We’ve been there. We are there. Empathy is embedded in the Jewish path. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” instructs Torah, and “When it comes to the whole subject of loving others, how you handle your own heart is how you will handle theirs.” (John Eldredge) That heart of yours that registers your own pain and vulnerability is the same heart that feels compassion for the pain and vulnerability of others. When we allow ourselves to open to the heartbreak within and around us, when we are strengthened by the love and solidarity of our fellows, we are simultaneously empowered and tenderized. That collective heart broken open by the razor’s edge of those shards surrounding us will save us, and save the world. And any sanctuary built without that kind of tender heart is just a bomb shelter.
The late poet and activist, Maya Angelou, said:
“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm, when we look at each other we must say, I
understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other and empathize with each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.”
There is this wonderful line from the psychologist, Louis Cozolino, who says,
“It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the nurtured.”
It’s our job today, as part of our tshuvah, our work of repairing and returning our relationships and our world to wholeness, to nurture and to be nurtured. It is an act of resistance against the forces of hatred and division. And it is the glue that keeps any community worth its salt together.
I want to tell you a story I heard about a little boy who one night, during a thunderstorm, got very very scared. He went into his parents’ room and his father said, Don’t worry, you are fine, God is with you – and his father sent him back to his own bed. A while later another loud boom of thunder sent the boy back into his parents’ room, and once again his father sent him back to his own room with You are ok, you are safe, God is with you. A third time, another round of loud thunder awoke and frightened the boy, and he returned to his parents’ bed. The boy said to his father ’I know God is with me, but I want someone with skin on.’
Let’s be the ones with skin on for each other and for the world. Let’s build a sanctuary out of all our broken hearts, a sanctuary in which we witness, protect, and heal the ruptures. Let’s collect the scattered shards, and make them whole with the tears of our compassion and with our fierce and relentless pursuit of justice and inclusivity.