Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, July 20, 2018 / 8 Av 5778
Summary: Rabbi Kosak provides a framework of the benefit of emotion as well as some major ways people get derailed by our emotions. He then applies those more abstract lessons to how many of us relate to Israel today.
Emotion matters. It’s elemental really. If stars use fusion for their energy, humans use emotion. It activates us. It helps us overcome inertia, and that is essential whenever what you have now is not what you want in the future. Emotion energizes change.
Managers understand this, and they try to develop or maintain esprit de corps. Not always so easy. People are impatient, and when they don’t see results–well, their passion dissipates. That is as true in a small business setting as it is for venture capitalists. What we call vision is merely the ability to share our passionate emotion in a way that catches fire with others.
There’s a problem with emotion also, and it comes down to how we harness it. Well wait, let’s go back a step. What if we are not happy with what our now, our present moment, looks like? There are a few options. The worst option, perhaps, is to disengage. We are not happy, and our discouragement breeds the very opposite of positive emotion. We turn away, we lose our energy and our way forward. Depression, seen from this angle, is the absence of motivating emotion. It is the loss of energy. It is a collapse inward so that we get frozen in place. Depression is the inability to be productively unhappy, to take steps that will lead us closer to the future we imagine.
Unfortunately, it’s not the only phenomenon to do this. Reactivity also is a backward response to our all-to-human dissatisfaction. It looks at how things are changing and correctly analyzes that some of those changes have negative consequences. But then it tries to unwind the good with the bad as it races to recover a past that is gone forever. Reactivity can also express itself in a very positive manner.
Additionally, some of us turn to resistance to sustain us when we are dissatisfied with what is. If we just stand tall and strong enough, unbending enough, we might be able to stop the forces we dislike or keep our souls pure. The trouble here is that while resistance can sometimes be necessary, it also tends to strengthen that which we resist. For every force, there is an equal and opposite force. The more you push, the harder you can get pushed back. Resistance is all about the impasse. It is also all about winning, yet there’s always another game, and today’s victor inevitably gets vanquished the next day or the one after that.
All of this is the second story. It’s a tale that could be told about today’s America. But I am thinking about how all of these forces–depression, disengagement, reaction, and resistance–describe the American Jewish relationship with Israel today. Increasingly, American Jews are unhappy about the forces that are shaping our shared ancestral homeland. They note her imperfections and her very serious challenges.
Although the Israel of today is a brown nation, a majority nation composed of eastern Jews, discrimination remains a problem. The Israeli Arab communities don’t receive equal support for their tax dollars–though the gap is beginning to shrink. Sephardic Jews, as a class, remain poorer than the “white” Jews of Ashkenaz. Israel’s geopolitical location also means she is always at risk of a three front war, for which she lacks sufficient military regiments. As a consequence, it over-relies on military strength because the risks are too high to do otherwise. In the face of globalism, it is also undergoing the same rise of nationalism that is sweeping across many nations.
Israel, moreover, resolves its entanglement concerns (its separation of religion and state) in a very different manner than America does. A Conservative rabbi was just arrested for performing a wedding (he was released and appeared in the Kenesset later in the same day). While there, our group participated in the Rosh Hodesh service with Women of the Wall. This month was particularly rough, with young Haredi boys harassing women and finding that humorous. Although the police did their jobs, the mood in our group was quite sour after those morning prayers were disrupted. Perhaps it’s more fair to say that Israel approaches entaglement and nationalism more like a European nation–more like a France than an America.
Regardless, all of these challenges are real. Over the next few weeks in my sermons, I’ll share how my recent trip to Israel is reshaping my thinking. I’ll argue that despite what we hear in the news, things on the ground are actually very promising. I’ll endeavor to describe meaningful improvements and successes in each of the problem areas outlined above without trying to diminish how far we have to go.
But in this Oasis Songs, I wanted to create a difficult portrait because we mark Tisha B’Av this week. It is the darkest observance in the Jewish year, forcing us to relive the destruction of the Temple and our exile from our place of origin. Part of its grimness comes from the rabbinic notion of sinat chinam, of senseless hatred. Sinat Chinam is the force that destroys from within. Abraham Lincoln summed it up best when he argued that a house divided can not stand.
I also wanted to begin from this more difficult place for two additional reasons:
First, any real relationship requires that we know the other in their fullness. I am a staunch believer in Israel and in what she has accomplished. Under incredible stresses, she has performed remarkably well. Yet we are not wrong to note her failings. Every good strategic plan, after all, has to diagnose what and where the challenges are so that action to overcome those issues can be taken.
The second reason is a rabbinic notion, that when recounting history, it is best to begin with the worst part of the story so that we can end on a more accurate and upbeat telling. So stay tuned.
It was wonderful to be there. It is wonderful to be back with you.
Shabbat Table Talk
- If you had to describe your relationship with Israel, which of the four categories above best matches your current story (disengagement, depression, positive or negative reactivity, resistance)?
- Why do you think you have gravitated to that form of relationship? Specifically, since every nation is deeply imperfect, how does your particular form of response serve you?
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