Learning from failure, forging prophetic partnerships and persisting. These are the three gates I want to walk through this Saturday, marching on just one week later, not alone.
I’ve started reading the Book of Exodus with my 8 year old this week and it’s never been as vivid as it is right now – a road map of resistance, an epic, timeless, hopeful tale that celebrates the triumph of human spirit over tyranny.
He’s into Harry Potter so I used the ‘magic wand’ hook and there is a fair amount of magic and supernatural elements to the story, not to mention divine intervention and holy war, but what ultimately moved and grabbed us both, right now, sitting over hot chocolate with an open bible, is the ultimate promise of the power of the people against an empire.
I never would have thought that I would be sitting with my son and reading this master story of our people with both of our eyes wide open to both the fantastical and the practical elements of Exodus as a resistance movement. I taught him the word that Moses used when rising to the task – Hineni – Here I Am.
There are 70+ ways to make sense of our sacred texts and complex reality. Others will read Exodus in synagogues this coming Sabbath and will choose to walk a very different talk, with different, shall we say “alternative,” meanings and messages.
There is, when handled with mutual respect, great blessing in this diversity. There is also a big challenge to find a common ground for meeting each other at our sacred essences despite so many different points of view.
I’ll be a guest teacher in a Conservative Jewish congregation in New Jersey this weekend. As I prepared, I found three gates that helped me to make sense of where we are right now – three ways to pause and learn from our past how to engage with more perspective, clarity and purpose in the present. Or to be more specific: how to handle failure, how to build partnerships, and how to cultivate persistence.
The first is the gate of failure and it is the one Moses crawls through as he fails to wake up the Hebrew slaves with his passionate calls to freedom. They are overworked, distracted, and spirit trodden.
So he tries again, but the key to the next gate is held by more than one change agent. The second gate, the gate of prophetic partnerships, is opened by both Moses and Aaron together as they become the team that leads the rest. Like them, we need to learn to work together and combine our many gifts.
And finally they launch the Exodus campaign, strike by strike, blood and blight upon the empire, a steady long campaign with terrible costs. But ultimately they succeed, walking through the gate of persistence
We need persistence, strategy, deep breaths and patience. This isn’t a one-to-one comparison from then to now, but these gates, these codes for opening soul and spirit, are what we need these days to rise to this historical moment, and not to rise above.
Our failures and our aspirations, partnerships and solidarity, persistence, courage and unwavering belief in the power of our cherished values of justice, equality, freedom for all – these can guide us like a pillar of light in the darkness, enough to make the eyes of 8 year olds shine bright and declare as I believe we all should right now – Hineni, Here We Are. Let’s do this. Together.
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
January 27 2017