Jewish Elasticity and Values
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Elasticity describes a ratio of change, a useful tool whose work is independent of units. To measure a ratio of change is to come to terms with the specific language and factors in any given situation before stating an observation. It is a brave thing to step into this world of elasticity, where things remain dimensionless until described, and even the eventual description can (and likely will) ultimately prove outdated, given the way systems naturally change.
Given Judaism's penchant for critique, for re-evaluation, for the continuation of even the most sacred of cannons through modern exploration, an elasticity approach might healthily influence the way we understand (and actualize) terms like "tradition", "community", and "membership."
The elasticity of a community allows it to absorb difference, to stretch when encountering stresses, and to retain its shape in the face of shifting contents and outside influences. For what is community if not a value-vessel with living, unpredictable members? If a community is unwilling to stretch to include, it is one kind of vessel, one that might break when overfilled.
This model of uncontainable energies is an adaptation of the Lurianic Creation story, in which the unity of the Universe was shattered at the moment of Creation, too immense to be held. Jewish mysticism suggests that from this cataclysm, Holy Sparks flew off in all directions, some returning to their Source, others falling to and becoming trapped in the world. Thus, as the Baal Shem Tov states, "In all that is in the world dwell Holy Sparks, no things is empty of them; in the actions of men also, indeed even in the sins he does, dwell Holy Sparks of God."
Creation, the infinite variety of being, is uncontainable in any one place, especially when that place is an intentional community, dedicating to vivifying a particular aspect of the Divine. The danger of divisiveness is not inherent to particularity. The glory of the Infinite is increased by invigorating each distinct aspect of reality. It is when one color from the Infinite spectrum sees itself as the whole that destruction is coupled with distinctiveness.
Elasticity describes holy purposefulness, a dimensionlessness that can find authentic expression in any given time or place. It is constantly tested. And this is a blessing. For when the spark of particularity is activated and released to the air by living communities, neighboring colors are both galvanized to strengthen their own colors and the entire rainbow is brighter.
In order to achieve this shared beauty, we must both protect particular vision and allow our elasticity to be tested. May we be strengthened in this way, and gain light from the world as we add our own.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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