Going free in the light
Shabbat Dvar – Parshat Tazria
Elijah Minyan & Shirat HaYam
San Diego, California
April 9, 2016 • 1 Nisan 5776
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov. Thank you Reb Wayne and Ellen, David and Rhonda, Elijah Minyan and Shirat HaYam, for your warm welcome. Aor this New Yorker who just saw snow, the “warm” part of your warm welcome is a special delight.
As David Rafsky knows as an ALEPH Board member, my ALEPH co-chair and I are dedicating our first year to a Listening Tour about the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal. We’re making 13 visits across the U.S. and Canada – from Boston to Vancouver, San Diego to Montreal; video sessions with Europe and Israel; summits with seminary leaders across and beyond the denominational streams of Jewish life; and more. We aim to touch the breadth and depth of all that ALEPH and Jewish Renewal have been, and all we might become. We want to hear it all.
The thing about listening, and the thing about becoming, is that they’re risky. It’s risky to ask what people really think and feel – not just about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, but about anything. After all, if we ask, people might answer, and truth is risky. Will people be real? Will speaking truth open hearts to being vulnerable? Will people trust us to listen deeply, openly and without judgment? Will it raise expectations about what we’ll do with all we hear? Can expectations be met? What if we disappoint? If we meet expectations, do we need to let go of some things to become something else? And at the same time, how do we stay true to the core of who we are?
Deep stuff. But like Reb Wayne and Ellen, I’m also a spiritual director – a mashpia, from the Hebrew shefa, meaning “flow.” And like Reb Wayne and Ellen, spiritual directors long before me, I’m learning to see the world in terms of “flow.” I believe that humanity is called to prime the pump of Spirit’s flow in the world and through our lives. It means taking a long view of how life evolves, seeing blocks in the flow for what they are, learning skillful ways to ease blocks that are ready to move, and using natural systems – ecosystems, family systems, spiritual systems and political systems – to make our way. That’s my approach to ALEPH, and to this Listening Tour – and to the hope, and the risk, of helping evolve the future of Jewish Renewal.
Natural systems and change: at this moment the Jewish spiritual calendar conspires to help them flow together. Today is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month, spiritually a moment of both newness and hiddenness. New will come but, like the New Moon that marks the new month, its light is concealed by the very earth we stand on. And this Rosh Chodesh isn’t just any Rosh Chodesh but Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Judaism’s traditional first day of the year – the original Rosh Hashanah that halacha (Jewish law) associated with the tachlis of social systems like government, movements and leadership. And all of this comes when we open Torah to read Parshat Tazria and its mysterious tale of tzora’at.
Tzora’at was a skin sickness that cast its sufferer out of camp for a week. Some translations render tzora’at as leprosy or psoriasis, but it also infected houses. Torah is silent on its cause, so many teachings abound – maybe a sexual disease (from zera, seed, euphemistically semen); maybe a divine penalty for ill speech; maybe a generic symbol for tzarot (troubles). Centuries of speculation aside, we just don’t know.
What might tzora’at have to do with Rosh Chodesh, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, a Listening Tour about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, natural systems and the flow of change? To me, all share what Reb Zalman called a hora’at sha’ah, a paradigm-shifting “lesson of the hour.” What is that lesson? It might be Not Knowing – letting go of what we think we know, thinking we can fully understand and explain, clutching answers, instead of making space for uncertainty so new possibility can flow – a holy space, a holy time out of the camp of routine so new skin can grow.
That’s Rosh Chodesh, when we can’t yet see the light of the new moon. That’s Rosh Chodesh Nisan, when we reboot for a year ahead we can’t yet see. That’s Parshat Tazria, when the inexplicable makes us face the limits of human knowledge. That’s the ALEPH Listening Tour, when we ask you to share the future of Jewish Renewal that you most yearn for – even if we don’t yet know how we’ll get there. Not Knowing has been part of nearly every change impulse in history – a shift in what we thought we knew that, for a time, left us speechless and awestruck.
Our first step is to dare to not-know, and to approach not-knowing not from a place of reticence and inhibition, but from radical openness. It’s a tall order, but that the mystic’s way, what Reb Nachman called the Torah of the Void, the emptiness from which all things can emerge new and renewed, a healing time out of the camp of our clutching minds.
Spiritually it’s no accident that this call comes two weeks before Passover, the full moon of Nisan when we celebrate liberation anew and renewed. Going free in the light of the full moon at Passover means first letting go in the dark of the new moon at Tazria. Let’s repeat that: going free in the light means first letting go in the dark. It asks of us a courage to let go, to not know, to yearn and to make our voices heard. That’s how a whole new history opened – deeply connected to what came before, and still a new chapter for a new era.
Every generation is asked to discover this truth anew, and so must we. It’s part of what the Listening Tour is about, to renew Renewal, and what this time is about for all humanity, to renew our global social compact if we can. It starts with making space for not knowing, letting go of what we think we know, so that from its openness renewal can flow. That’s the lesson of this hour and the hope of this Listening Tour for ALEPH and Jewish Renewal.
May all of us find the spaciousness and courage we need for the journey ahead, and may we make that journey together with the joy of the renewal coming now into the light. Shabbat shalom.