A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Judaism

The Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing us to face some difficult questions about ourselves as a society. The underlying theme that unites the movements in different cities is the vast economic inequality in our country. What does Judaism have to say about this movement? To understand that, we have to understand two major modes of viewing spiritual life in the Jewish world.

One mode is what we might call the inner or mystical mode, in which we seek to understand an interior spiritual challenge that we face. My previous post on Parshat Lech Lecha is an example of this kind of spiritual meditation and truth-seeking. Chasidism has had a massive influence on modern Jewish culture because it speaks to a need we have for a depth understanding of our individual experience in the world and how to imbue our experience on the planet with meaning.

There is also the Prophetic mode (to be clear, these are not absolute, or imporous, categories - nor are they the only two ways of understanding Jewish life). The Prophets were concerned with the Jewish people as a whole and its collective failure to live out the responsibilities imposed upon it in its relationship with God. The Prophet examined his society and held up a mirror to it. Abr We can't view these two modes - the inner and Prophetic - as unrelated or totally separate. They are resonant with one another.

Isaiah's inspiration comes from the fact that he senses the world teeming with the Divine Presence, so much so that he is in pain when the People stray from the Divine Path. There is a deep and beautiful interiority to his words because he is so deeply connected to and touched by God. And, going in the other direction, an authentic mystical experience inevitably takes us beyond the interior realm to see the deepest unity of Creation, a unity that shows us that we are never alone, and never from from responsibility for others. The movements across the country are expressions of outrage. Certainly these are political.

But I think we should try to see them as having their roots in a prophetic intuition that we all have. Both the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement, while using very distinct vocabularies and seeking very different solutions, have at their core a sense that the moral order of the universe has been violated. That there is a concept of "right" and "good" that human societies can attain that has been ignored or violated by the powerful and wealthy.

At moments like this that prophetic point within each of us, that part of us that has an intuition about the need for goodness and compassion and fairness to be more than just concepts, and to be made real in the world, begins to burn brightly. Our society views religion as a private, interior experience. In the world of Torah it certainly is that. But Jewish teaching has of course always seen it as imperative that values be brought in to the world. We do not "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" because there is no area of existence that is beyond Divine concern.

A test of our own connection to our tradition, to our success in living a Jewish life, is how we respond to this moment. Of course Torah does not call on us to find solutions in the Republican or Democratic party. But we must hear in the stirrings of our country the cry of the Prophet calling for justice. Infographic of Wealth Distribution found on andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish Photo of Oakland protest taken from motherjones.com

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