Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eyes, Ears, Mind, Heart....and Change - Reflections on High Holy Days 2013/5774 (an unpublished column submitted to a local newspaper) - August 25, 2013

At a recent Town Hall meeting in Las Cruces, a local public figure, in responding to a question on a particular controversial issue, noted that we need a change of “mind” and “heart” rather than stricter laws that would compromise what he and others consider to be a right guaranteed in the United States Constitution.
What captured my attention was the use of the terms “mind,” “heart,” and change.  
    There are brilliant minds, underused minds, and closed minds.   There are warm hearts, cold hearts, and hard hearts.     
      Change of any kind can elicit fear, or foster progress, or lead us backwards, or create a new opportunity.  
    In addition to “mind” and “heart,”  I believe that “eyes” and “ears” are crucial as we encounter the world.  
      We can turn our eyes away, or look intently and honestly at what is going on around us.  
     We can open our ears to truly listen to what people are saying to us, or close our ears to calls for help or change or progress.   
     In a recent installment in a series called “Jewels of Elul” (Elul is the month on the Jewish calendar preceding the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah), world-renowned singer Achinoam Nini (Noa) shared her thoughts on “The Art of Welcoming”:   “For me, the word ‘welcoming’ is deeply associated with the word ‘opening’ - opening a door, a heart, a mind. Opening your eyes in order to truly see those around you, opening your mind to new ideas, opening your heart, even to what seems threatening, frightening, ominous, with the knowledge that we fear most what we are unfamiliar with. Reaching out to those whom we are suspicious of, those whom we have formed weakly based opinions of, is the key to dissolving fear and making way for growth and acceptance.”
    In any community, we are called to be welcoming, to reach out beyond the labels we place on other people and beyond the labels that may be associated with us. 
     Judaism, and other religions as well, teach that we are created in the divine image, meaning that there is a special spirit that comes from the Oneness that binds us together.   
    In Leviticus Chapter 19, not only does it say “love your neighbor as yourself.”  It further declares: “When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them.  The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” To truly follow these teachings, we must begin by recognizing the humanity and dignity of every person.
       A powerful symbol associated with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is the Shofar, which we sound at specific times during our worship for these High Holy Days.   The Shofar is intended to move those who hear its call to be decent, caring and respectful human beings who are willing to look into themselves, see their strengths and failings, and strive for positive change.     The sound of the Shofar is hard to ignore, and that is as it should be.  Changing mind and heart for the better is crucial to living a good life. 
      We must, however, also consider that open eyes and ears might bring about positive change in the world. On the morning of Yom Kippur, Jewish worship includes the reading of an excerpt from Isaiah Chapter 58, which calls on us to “unlock the fetters of wickedness,” to “let the oppressed go free,” and to take the poor into our homes. Only then will our light “shine in the darkness.”   In the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus about the Statue of Liberty, the last line declares, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  The High Holy Days of Jewish tradition call on us to lift our lamps towards one another, so that we can see, as well as hear, those who are asking us for help, appealing to the compassion that they know is essential to our humanity.
    The rabbis of the Talmud suggested that God prays.  What is God’s prayer?  “May it be that my attribute of strict justice will be overcome and overtaken by my attribute of mercy.”    This is how we can approach each other in communal life.  We have laws, but we can apply them with mercy.  We have definite ideas about how a friend or co-worker or classmate should act, but sometimes we need to give him or her the benefit of the doubt.   We have our own opinions, but perhaps we can see even one valid point in an opposing position, which could lead to a meeting of minds and hearts in the middle.  A community will thrive when it is founded upon compromise and compassion, and when its members are willing to open their minds, hearts, ears and eyes.
        In the months to come, may we consider how we can reach out to each other with concern and offer needed support.  May our hearts be warm as we offer one another a welcoming spirit.  May our ears clearly hear voices calling for change that will benefit us all.  And with our eyes, may we see one another in the most positive light.

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