Rabbi Alexander will share the drasha and an after-Birkat haMazon learning "Expressions of Unorthodox Joy: Medieval Sanity & Creativity Exposed in Halakhah"
Rabbi Aaron Alexander is Associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles where he teaches rabbinic literature and Jewish law. He currently serves on the Committee for Jewish and Standards of the Conservative Movement and is a Rabbinic Leader in the American Social Justice Movement.
I met a sweet soul for the first time this morning. In the end, I have no idea how our conversation might help him, but it prompted this reflection, for his sake, and for the sake of many, many others in our community and beyond.
Many people have a primal emotional attachment to some envisioned future. For engaged Jews, that often means a weekly experience of peace at a Shabbat table with a loving Jewish partner, friends, children. Music. Blessings. Reflection. Holiness. These are manifestations of tribal continuity imprinted on an individual's soul. It can feel like, once one's adult's life-journey begins, every decision either leads toward or away from that vision. Doubt creeps in, and we ask questions like:
"How can I have that Shabbat if I'm in love with a non-Jew?" or "How can that musichappen at my Shabbat table if my partner and I can't have children?" "How can I have that peaceif I haven't met my life-partner yet?" or "How can I have any of that if..."
"that Shabbat", "that music", "that peace", "any of that"....
Life doesn't work like this. We never know the life we'll lead in advance, and the twists and turns of even the most predictable life-journey makes prophecy foolish. As Jewish tradition offers, "eyn navi be'iro - there's no prophet in their own city." You can't expect "that" anything. Because if you have an idealized vision of your future, all you are likely to experience is disappointment.
Think about it this way, instead: You are lucky enough to be exactly who you are, to be alive in this precise moment, to be soulful enough to worry, and to have dreams powerful enough to make you fret. What I believe about God leads me to say that you are blessed. Blessed to have this moment and the next, and to know that all the moments in your personal/familial/tribal journey have led you to this one. The future will not look like anything you've imagined, nor anything you can describe. That's just not how it works. The mystery of time unfolding is one that has the power to surprise you.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that every person must "choose between awe and anxiety, ...between radical amazement and radical despair. (The Insecurity of Freedom, p. 48)"
Yes, we can be disappointed. But it is wrong to be disappointed in advance. Hopelessness is the gravest sin a person can commit.
Choose amazement. This journey we share, life itself, is so much more beautiful when you're willing to be surprised.
I had a beautiful day today. I stood with my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.
I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.
Too. Much. War.
The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it's also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It&…