“Put not your trust in princes,” said an immigrant-rights activist this past week – one who had put his trust in President Biden.
For Mr. Biden could have, as he promised again and again during his presidential campaign, changed the abysmally low level the number of refugees Trump had set – 15,000 a year – to be allowed to enter the US. Could have raised to a decent humanitarian level the number of refugees admitted to the US.
Biden promised to raise it to 62,500 – still much smaller that the US could easily absorb. But then just several days ago the White House announced they would keep Trump’s limit. That’s when the activist quoted “Put not your trust in princes from PsaLm 146:3. There was an uproar of disgust from immigrant-rights organizations and many Memebers of Congress. The White House stammered and evaded. Maybe they will return to carry out their promises, and maybe not.
Whom does the Psalm say to trust? YHWH, the Interbreathing Spirit that Unites the world, the Breath of Life. For it is that knowledge of the truth of interbreathing that (says the Psalm) “secures justice for those who are wronged, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, watches over the stranger, gives courage to the orphan and the widow. Hallelu-Yahhhh – Praise the Breath of Life!”
This week’s Torah portion includes the profound teaching: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) In a chant derived from that teaching is an even fuller revelation of its truth:
Hareini mekabel alai
et mitzvat ha'Borei,
ve’ahavta le'rei-acha kamocha,
In English, chantable to the same melody (see below for the melody):
“Here am I,
And I take upon myself
The commitment of the Creator --
‘Love your neighbor as your self,
your neighbor as your self.’ ”
Why do I say “even fuller revelation”? The chant says this is the mitzvah or commitment-connection of the Creator, and there is a tradition that this chant is the melody of Ha’Ari, Yitzchak Luria, the mystical genius of Tz’fat or Safed. He asserted that the Creation of the world came "Before There Was a Before," when ALL Was/Is/Will Be God in undifferentiated holiness. This God became Creator by tziiiim-tzum: inner contraction to allow an independent world to emerge and grow from the wisps of Divinity left in the void after that great inward turning.
The question is, WHY? Was not unlimited God enough? But the commitment of the Creator was to love a neighbor, and for a neighbor to be present and love to be possible the Creator had to allow the emergence of a neighbor. By this teaching, Love is the root of the existence of the Universe, not only the web that connects its myriad of beings.
The melody of the chant is here. In this version it is simple, clear, easy to learn. You can make it the beat of the universe, if you wish.
Back to putting our trust not in the powerful princes who seem to bestride the “narrow” world but in the Interbreath of vegetation and animals (humans among them) as the broadest form that Love takes in our planet. The failure of love for refugees is not the only failing of our elected prince -- a failure to do what he could have done simply by executive order and hasn’t.
He could have appointed new members of the board of the US Postal Service, who could then have ousted Postmaster-General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy was appointed by Mr. Trump in June 2020, as the election loomed close. He has done his worst to destroy the postal system. He had two reasons: to prevent its use to deliver millions of legitimate votes for Biden, and to make USPS so ineffective and so slow in mail delivery as to hasten its replacement by private profit-making companies.
USPS is the only Federal agency truly beloved by the American public because it connects, it never kills. Moreover, it is the one that for almost a century has been a mainstay of employing Black workers at decent middle-class salaries. Yet Biden, though claiming to be pro-public democracy and antiracist, though possessed of the legitimate authority to save the Postal Service, has done nothing. Why?
I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Biden has consistently failed the test of Love. He has indeed accomplished two triumphs of Love: Passage of the Rescue Act with enormous amounts of urgent money to repair the first level of economic and personal damage from Covid; and setting a specific date to get all US and NATO troops out of Afghanistan, ending the longest war in US history.
On that war, I want to note that years ago, even before the Trump residency, we published a Shalom Report that had one headline a page, and that’s all. Each page read “Do Not Invade Afghanistan!”
One page was signed by Alexander the Great. Two different pages were signed by The British Empire, another by The Soviet Union, and one by the United States. Biden is the first President to have the good sense and the courage to heed the warnings of history.
So the point is not to turn over our own commitment to “love our neighbors as our selves” to those we choose as our princes, our leaders. Not to “trust” them to do the work of the universe, our own work. But to stay ever vigilant, to take loving action ourselves, to speak out and sit in, to breathe with full awareness that every breath comes from the plants and animals around us, that we owe them loving renewal of all Breath – not a scorching surplus of CO2. That every breath is God’s Name, that our planet and the universe hang together in that Breath, that Love.