A Fall of destruction. Over the past couple of months, my caring quotient was met and toppled over fully. Between hurricanes, earthquakes, horrific mass shootings, wildfires, and terrorist attacks, I found myself unable to absorb more information with true sympathy; unable to activate myself beyond the first purchase of gift cards for recovery efforts. I also found myself more angry than ever at the very small fraction of things humans could have done or could still do to make it better. But "coulda woulda shoulda" doesn’t really help the people who lost their homes or their lives; and so much of what we saw, while exacerbated by human action (or inaction) would have still been destructive and deadly.
I have to add to this list the moral failure of a personal friend. For the first time in my privileged life, I saw action which I’ve previously been able to uncomplicatedly put into the side of “bad,” as part of a whole person, a part of a person who on the whole I would put into the “good” category. How do I square this, and what does it mean about other people I’ve so callously shifted aside and judged as a whole because of their bad behavior on their worst days? I’ve also grappled with trying to figure out if I am even a fair judge: Do I easily forgive the moral failures of politicians (or movie stars) I agree with and whose policies I desire, while condemning their opponents for very similar behavior? Here too I find myself stuck, unable to activate for change. But here, because it is personal, I can do something: I can learn more about the nature of what it means to be human. I can put more shades of gray into my understanding of good and evil; even good and evil behavior. And so too I can attempt to not condemn the whole person, even as I condemn the actions.
It has been a hard Fall, a Fall filled with destructive forces. The quantity of national tragedies would leave anyone drained. I pray that as we turn into the darkest nights of winter we will find our inner light to gather strength and face the challenges of the world. I pray we will find our own hypocrisies and they will teach us to be more patient and understanding of the hypocrisies of others. I pray we will be less swift to judgment and more understanding of the wholeness of people. I pray we will, as a community and country, help repair the breaches the destruction of the Fall has left; working together I feel we will see the best in humanity and remind ourselves of the hope which makes life worthy of living.
At Erev Rosh Hashanah, as several tragedies were unfolding, we read this prayer. As we turn to the secular New Year, this prayer can help us recalibrate our goals and find the inner strength to create goodness from destruction:
To Break the Bonds, by Alden Solovy, published in Mishkan Hanefesh Machzor for Rosh Hashanah, p. 33:
To Break the bonds of anger / to be generous of heart;
To break the bonds of shame / to live with self-respect;
To break the bonds of envy / to serve one another in joy;
To break the bonds of boredom / to be attentive to all God’s gifts;
To break the bonds of fear / to live with courage and strength;
To until the knots of betrayal / to love with fullness of being;
To break the bonds of loneliness / to receive a hand of hope;
To break the bonds of self-centeredness / to extend a hand of help;
Released from the darkness / our people found their freedom at the sea;
And we pray for liberation / at the dawning of this year.
Cantor Joanna Alexander