Monday, December 14, 2015

remember you too were strangers

"The central insight at Sinai is this: the God of the universe is the God of freedom and transcendence; the God that has made possible the liberation from Egypt; the God that ensures that the way things will be need not be the way they have been; the God that enables us to break the chain of negativity and pain that links the generations.
"The specific way Torah insists that human beings can break the chain of cruelty is in our treatment of the powerless, the widow, the orphan, and most particularly the stranger...Why would we be tempted to oppress the stranger? Precisely because the children of Israel function psychologically like all other human beings, by repeating the behavior generated by earlier traumatic events, but now from the position of being the agent who is inflicting it rather than suffering from it.
"But...Torah says, 'No! don't do it! You don't have to do it. You can break the chain of suffering, you can transcend it. You do not have to pass on the pain that was delivered to you to the next generation, or to the people over whom you [currently] have power, or to the people with whom you have contact. You do not have to recreate Egypt! The logic of oppression that has ruled every society is not the only possible way things could be. In fact, the universe is governed by another logic. And so, you must not oppress the powerless; one standard of behavior must be adopted for you and for the powerless; not two.'"
--from Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation by Michael Lerner

Friday, December 4, 2015

it may have always been so but it won't always be so

This morning as I read a review of the newest novel by Milan Kundera I had a comforting thought. It is this: For a long while in our recent history (nearly fifty years) and not so long ago (within the life of nearly everyone reading this), the Soviet Union, however one wanted to think of it, was a given of the future. For people, like Kundera and his audiences of the time, there was a certain comfort in recognizing the USSR would always exist and provide a certain consistency that no matter what vagaries the future held, the bureaucracy and the politboro and der kommissars would always, always, be a force with which they would daily reckon. And then, suddenly, it wasn't.

Whether you subscribe to the theory that it died a death by a thousand cuts or it overextended itself like all empires do or that Mikhail Gorbachev somehow retained his compassion as he worked his way to the Supreme Soviet, the fact remains that, as one of Kundera's characters explains, "We've known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush." But then, so suddenly that to many of us outside it took place overnight, that was no longer the case. For good and bad, the Soviet Union was proven not the omnipotent, omnipresent, unassailable monolith it had seemed.

And so, I'm certain, the nation's unwillingness to face head-on its ineffective gun laws. The US is not the wild west and to allow our laws to reflect the wrong idea that the only safe citizen is an armed one puts us all at risk. We wail and grieve after every massacre and swear, "Surely, this time it must change," only to find that the money and influence of the NRA have been there before us and stacked the deck so that, not only will restrictions fail to be tightened they will actually be loosened. And we lose heart and get better accustomed to piles of dead children.

But just as the arc of justice does eventually bend, despite its looking from our perspective like a long cutting blade of indifference, so will the battle to resurrect some sanity to the Second Amendment someday seem preordained. Have faith.