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Gun violence is on the rise in Portland. There have been over 400 shootings this year. Over thirty homicides. As a transplanted New Yorker, the state of our beloved city is hauntingly familiar. I grew up when New York City claimed the dubious title of America’s most dangerous city, its grittiest city. New York was the homeless capital of America back then. It was a town standing on the abyss. Looking at the trendlines here in Portland is a bleak exercise. For me, it raises a series of dismal and worrisome flashbacks.
The most well-known piece of Parshat Naso is the Priestly Blessing. More important than the blessing itself is simply the idea that there is no peace unless all of us are seen. Just as God cannot grant us peace without first facing us as we are, we too cannot create peace among ourselves until we are all seen, until we are all heard.
Maybe it’s because my wife is a therapist. Or maybe it’s because my favorite religious literature is the writings of Hasidic masters. Both psychology and Hasidic thought want to understand how our our inner thoughts and impulses drive our perceptions of the world. Both recognize that the human soul carries within it many unknowns that create unconscious habits. Without awareness of those almost instinctual patterns, we tend to repeat ourselves.
Did you ever have a collection of dolls or action figures or baseball cards you weren't supposed to play with? The census in this week's Torah portion reminds us that each of us is a “collector’s item" in a way. How different the world might be if we all saw and admired the one-of-a-kind uniqueness in everyone.
As we approach Mother’s Day, I imagine that we all have images and memories through which we can re-experience the love we received from our mothers. Here’s one among many. I played soccer for eight years, and mom was there at virtually all the games—the only times she couldn’t make it was when I was on the travel team. Apart from those, it didn’t matter what the weather was like.
It’s the snowball effect, not the snow itself, that I’m reminded of in this week’s Torah portion. Whether it’s a global pandemic or a cycle of systemic oppression, when enough “snow” builds up and starts rolling away from us, it can quickly get out of hand. Like a snowball, problems are easier to control when they’re manageable in size.