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Rabbi's Corner

Viva la Revolución!

 rev·o·lu·tion

/ˌrevəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/

noun

1.     1.

a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.

synonyms:

rebellion, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, uprising, riot, rioting, rising, insurgence, insurgency, coup, overthrow, seizure of power, regime change; More

 

Western Europe of the late 18th century swooned with romantic ideas of identity, independence, and freedom. The philosophical spirit of the times empowered the crushed among the lower ranks of society to advocate for justice and the equality of all members of the society. Servility and slavery were considered the evils of antiquated social and economic systems.

Revolution followed shortly thereafter. The American Revolution, leading to the French Revolution, leading to further revolutions of 1848.

These are some of the ideas that I heard discussed as I walked the halls during the secular studies.

The common feature of all these transitions is that they were awfully violent events. As the struggle for freedom became dire, those in power became desperate. They turned their muzzles on the finest of their own citizenry, sowing death and mayhem. This is revolution indeed. Lasting change was made, but the cost of freedom was paid.

As we read Parshas Hachodesh this week we prepare to celebrate and relive the revolution of our people. The Jewish revolution is a change of a fundamentally different order.

Our ancestors, a landless people without effective leadership, were trapped into forced labor, serving at the mercy of the Egyptians masters. No thinker of the time could ever imagine it remotely possible that this slave nation would win immortality and transform their work into a dwelling place for Hashem.

Liberating people from oppression is, and was, a spiritual goal of great importance. But when the Jews escaped their masters, their liberation was not yet complete. Owning their own lives and the products of their labor was not yet freedom for our people. 

Our ancestors were told that their freedom independence would be different and they wished for more. The Torah explains that the generation of the Exodus did not experience a mere freedom “from” bondage as many other nations have experienced throughout history. Instead, those leaving Egypt would experience a different kind of freedom: a freedom “to.”

The real freedom Hashem grants us at Sinai is the ability for our actions to matter. Not just matter to someone, but to matter to The One! Our freedom was a release from the depths of futility and irrelevance. A freedom to fulfill the destiny of the chosen people to bring goodness and inspiration to the world.

True Story

Many years ago I found myself seated for a Shabbos meal at the home of a wonderful family.  The environment was as warm and wonderful as the sumptuous chicken soup that only a loving mother can make.  The singing was soulful, and delightfully intertwined with inspiring words of Torah.

I sat in close proximity to the eldest son, a very clever boy who was more than happy to display his knowledge. He was clearly in sync with his family’s passion for Shabbos, and had many interesting things to say about the weekly parsha.

As the entrée was served to all the guests, our gracious host shared some insights of his own on the weekly Torah reading.  Suddenly, to the astonishment of all present, our host’s eldest son interrupted his father mid-sentence. He announced, with the pride and satisfaction of youthful unawareness, “What you are saying is not true.” He continued to explain that his father’s statement was not true because… and … and …

If there was ever a “mic drop” moment that was certainly it! Jaw agape, attempting to save face and correct his son, our host tossed a casual glance at the boy and began explain where his son had gone wrong. 

But the child would not relent.  “It’s not true, that’s wrong,” he declared in bold defiance.  It was clear and obvious to all of us (except perhaps the host, who was shocked by his son’s behavior) that the boy’s behavior was only embarrassing to himself and in no way a repudiation of the host’s knowledge.  (The child was actually incorrect.) 

Why did the boy act so disrespectfully?  What was driving him to correct his father, and why couldn’t he relent?

While I cannot presume to know the inner relationship and dialogue norms within the family, it appeared to me that in truth the child was not trying to embarrass his father. Rather, he was eager to impress him.  He wanted to display his learning and knowledge to give his father nachas and enjoyment.

Yet without empathy and self-awareness, this passion misguided him to breach the boundaries of acceptable behavior, leading to an unfortunate display of disrespect.

We see the same dynamics at work in this week’s parsha in the story of Nadav and Avihu. Their deep and noble desire for the ultimate closeness with Hashem overshadowed all of their learning, Moshe’s instructions, and even Hashem’s vision for the incense offering as He outlined in the Torah.  Following their passion single-mindedly led them to disregard the will of the very One whom they wanted most! 

Relationships that are sustaining must be built on both parties’ will. Passion, even passion for the highest things, carries with it the danger of tunnel vision. Seeing only our own desires might, chas veshalom, lead to breaking the  boundaries that our relationships require to be life-giving.  

What guards us against tunnel vision? Two keys are self-awareness and empathy. When we are self-aware, we know our desires and acknowledge that we, ourselves, want them. When we have empathy, we are able to feel what others want. Empathy also implies compassion towards others, and an interest in their wellbeing. Instilling empathy and self-awareness protects us from passion’s tunnel vision.

As parents and teachers, we must pass down those keys to ensure that our children’s offerings elicit a sweet life of goodness and happiness. Do we assist children to name their feelings and desires? Are we modeling how to invent solutions that work with everyone’s desires? Do we practice finding out what others want? Even letting children ask guests what they would like in their chicken soup reinforces the awareness that different people want different things. My wish for all of us is that we have children whose passion for life and Torah is unlocked with the keys of empathy and self-awareness.

Shabbat shalom.

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