Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 2, 2018 / 15 Adar 5778
NO MISHNA BERURAH CLASS UNTIL MARCH 11TH!
Summary: Rabbi Kosak thanks the congregation for celebrating with his family, reflects on Purim and shares a somewhat strange encounter with a street person.
Shayah’s Bar Mitzvah
The Kosak family is still recovering from all of our recent festivities. I am catching up on work, so my remarks this week are coming out later than normal.
What a wonderful weekend it was last Shabbat. I want to thank everyone who helped celebrate with us as Shayah stepped up to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. There were so many things that were personally meaningful to our family; what struck me is how nothing can really prepare you for such a day. Perhaps only congregational rabbis have the right to say that–but after helping hundreds of kids and families, it really is true. As a community, we all take a measure of pride and joy in the achievements of our extended family. Still, when it is your own child’s turn, it is different.
We are all part of something so much larger than ourselves, yet the inner dimensions of that experience are made most clear in such a particular and personal moment. That could be said of our religion as well. Judaism has an enduring engagement to the universal, and the fate of humanity as a whole. Paradoxically, though, the universal is achieved through our commitment to the particularism of our own faith tradition. We discover the immensity of the world by peering deeply enough in our own backyard.
Purim this year followed this motif. With its theme of Unmasked, we were privileged to hear the personal and artistic expressions of a number of our teens. Their courageous revelations of identity were quite poignant. They were also a reminder that human beings never fit a single mold. Every soul is precious and inherently different. Such variety is endlessly remarkable. As our Sages of old liked to remark, “When humans mint coins, each comes out the same, yet when God mints humans, every one is unique.”
From the Street Beat
This past week, Rabbi Posen and I were invited by Mia Birk to Impact NW’s annual fundraising lunch. Impact NW does a world of good by helping some of our most marginalized Portland neighbors “prosper through a community of support.” We had the opportunity to hear some success stories and learn about the efforts of a handful of tech workers who assembled and distributed several hundred resource packets of socks and sundries.
The name of the luncheon, “The Power of One” gets at the ability each of us has to be an agent of change. And that’s true. The last time our Soup to the Streets brigade went out, it was a particularly cold night. We encountered Gary B, an elderly gentleman who despite numerous attempts, was unable to get an arm into one of his coat sleeves. Tracey, a now-regular volunteer, observed this, and helped Gary get his coat on properly. It was a small moment of chesed, of kindness, which meant the world to this older man. It is hard to be homeless. It is even more challenging to be old and homeless.
But feeding the homeless is for me about more than the good we can do. Rather, there’s always at least one person, who, true to the name “the power of one,” impacts me. One person whose humanity is sufficiently unmasked to leave an imprint on me.
That particular night, the person who made such a mark on me was Who.
No, that is not a question. “Who” is the name of this man we ran into a couple of times that evening. The second time, he and I started conversing. At one point, he shared that he was spiritually gifted and had access to alternative states of reality that most other people don’t have.
Now it would be easy enough to write off this statement as indicative of a person experiencing schizophrenic hallucinations. Perhaps that was the case with Who. I’ve had numerous encounters with those who suffer from schizophrenia, and it can sometimes take time to figure that out. People with the illness can present as normal for a period of time.
Except there was this pointed moment, immediately after Who made that statement, when he looked at us; it seemed as if he had a moment of recognition that we were those “most other people.” He withdrew his statement with a quick “never mind” and thanked us profusely for the soup and sandwich. “It’s very kind of you.”
What happened in that moment of transition? Did Who remember that you can’t share your hallucinations with “normal people” because they can’t see them? Did he alternatively understand that we might determine that he was mentally ill, and flipped into “normal mode” out of a sense of self-protection? Or perhaps Who is indeed a spiritually gifted individual?
We’ve probably all met some of the world’s deeply sensitive souls, those folks who can’t live out the normal patterns of house, family and job precisely became they feel the world too deeply. They speak or think or behave just differently enough that we resort to labels, or worse, stigmatize and ostracize them for being who they are. We let our fear shut them out.
I’ll probably never know which account best describes Who. But for a short moment, the vastness of his humanity was unmasked in our urban backyard.
Shabbat Table Talk
- Who is the most unusual or odd person you’ve run into recently?
- What made them odd to you? Was it their behavior, dress, speech or something else?
- Did you enjoy their uniqueness or did it make you want to get away from them as quick as possible?
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