After "Sandy": We Need a Hurricane of Social Change

Suppose we were applying biblical theology to the events of today:
We might say that God listened to the two major candidates for President of the most powerful nation in the world refusing to say the words “climate change” or “global warming” in a single one of their major speeches and debates.
And then God, His face flaring red in hot anger, acting as King and Judge and Lord to rebuke their sin, would send their country an overheated storm to punish and remind them what is the greatest problem they should have been addressing.
Suppose we were instead applying a theology that sees the Divine Presence more infused in the world.  That understands “YHWH” as a Breath. (Try pronouncing it without any vowels.) Not just as a breath, but as the Interbreathing of all life. As a concise statement of the science that says: We breathe in what the trees breathe out,  the trees breathe in what we breathe out.
This theology fuses religious wisdom with scientific knowledge. Through this lens we see the interplay of Breath, this balanced interplay of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere, the very Breath of Life throughout our planet, as God’s Presence in our midst.
When human beings insist on overburning fossil fuels and thereby “breathing” far far more CO2 into the atmosphere than the trees and grasses can breathe in, this imbalance overheats our planet. It threatens the balance that makes life possible. It burns holes into the “YHWH” that is the Divine life-giving Breath of Life.
What we call the climate crisis is a crisis in the very Name of God.

Occupy Holy Week, Occupy Passover: Dancing in the World-wide Earthquake

Flyer  for Philadelphia event: Occupy Holy  Week & Passover, April 1

[Click on the graphic to expand it.]

Can Religion be Transformative?

Can we Empower the 99%, Democratize the 1% ?

Plans are under way in Philadelphia & New York City for an action to “Join with Occupy: Celebrate  Holy Week & Passover.”   People of faith could undertake actions like it all across the country.

Bin Laden & Beyond

How might we appropriately address the death of a mass murderer?

The Torah describes  Moses and Miriam leading the ancient People Israel in a celebratory song after the tyrannical Pharaoh and his Army have been overwhelmed by the waters of the Red Sea. Later, the Rabbis gave a new overtone to the story: “The angels,” they said, “ began to dance and sing as well, but God rebuked them: ‘These also are the work of My hands. We must not rejoice at their deaths!’ “

Mubarak's Quitting & Beyond: Hallelu-YAH! Dayenu! – And the next step ...

The Hebrew phrase "Hallelu-YAH!" means, "Let us praise the Breath of Life!" Sometimes the Breath/ Wind/ Spirit of the world comes as a Hurricane of change. We shake with awe. And if the Hurricane knocks down pyramids of arrogance and power, we can praise God in joy.

And so today, when a modern Pharaoh fell. Today, 8 Safar in the Hijri (Muslim) calendar; February 11, 7 Adar-Aleph, in the Western and Jewish calendars.

Hundreds of our readers and members this past week joined in writing President Obama to urge that he insist that Mubarak go –-  and take his vice-president, the Torturer-General of Egypt – with him.

 I am sure this helped. But only helped.  It was the nonviolent power of a people awakened, the Breath of the Egyptian millions breathing in nonviolent concert, that has taken the first step toward freedom. But of course that is only the beginning.

 There is a strange song in the Passover Seder that celebrates the overthrow of a Pharaoh. It goes:

If we had gotten to the Red Sea but it had not split to let us through, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

If we had gotten to Mount Sinai but no Torah had been revealed, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

And so on for 15 verses, each ending with the chorus, Dayenu! – That would have been enough for us! ---

At first reading, this seems ridiculous. It would NOT have been enough.

But on deeper reflection, we realize that after every victory, we should pause to celebrate. Another verse will come, another step must still be taken.  But if we never celebrate, we will burn out before we can take the next breath, the next step. "Dayenu" in the song is like Shabbat in the week. Pause, sing, dance, catch your breath, reflect, learn, love. The work-week will come, must come, soon enough.  

The fall of Mubarak is only the beginning. Birthing an Egypt that is free and democratic, that does not build its government on American military aid, that can pursue a true peace with Israel that includes peace for and from and with the Palestinians led by their own freely chosen government (as Sadat of Egypt tried to achieve in 1979  but

was thwarted by Israeli Prime Minisater Begin)--  each step must now be taken.  

Birthing an America that will encourage a New Israel to be born that takes the birth of a New Egypt  as a signal to free itself from the iron cage of “stability”;

Birthing an America that does not build its own security abroad and prop up its own government's political support at home through hundreds of billions of dollars and gallons of blood in hundreds of military bases and decades of war, but can join at home and abroad in a planetary eco-community of sharing jobs and sharing wealth –--  these are still other steps to take.

Can we take a breath to notice -- that when the possibility of democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds is born, it is not at the point of American bayonets and "Predators" jammed down the throats of Iraqis or Afghans, but from

the grass roots of their own societies?

Everyone has noticed that the Tunisian and Egyptian upheavals have stirred new energy throughout the

Arab world.   I hope they are also stirring new thought, new energy, among many other peoples, including our own, to shake off the stupor brought upon us by our own Pharaohs –-  Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Army, and the media

that tell us that their control of us is for our own good.  

What is the sound of one hand clapping?  It is the joyful sound of Dayenu in one hand & the quiet persevering work of Not Dayenu in the other -– hand over hand, climbing Freedom's ladder; step by step, walking  Freedom's Journey.

Some might say: Better not to celebrate the fall of an enemy, even a Pharaoh. But especially when it

is accomplished by nonviolence so that not only his own first-born but all the first-born of his country are NOT slain,   it might be instructive to reread the song Moshe & Miriam led on the other side of the Re[e]d Sea: Exodus chapter 15: “Horse and rider has God hurled into the Sea!!!”

The midrash teaches that God forbade the angels to celebrate, but only because Pharaoh and many of his soldiers soldiers died: "Are not these also the work of My hands?"  All the more may even the angels dance when so few have died in winning transformation!

With blessings, especially joyful tonight at this moment of Dayenu, for shalom and salaam; for a true peace rooted in justice and in truth --   Arthur

Freedom Songs and the Exodus Story

Tales of the New Hassidim: Part 2

Rabbi Arthur Waskow tells the story of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, his own small role in seating their delegation, and the impact of her activism and leadership on his own life.

This is the second in the video series "Tales of the New Hassidim," Rabbi Arthur's own story-telling of moments he lived through, alongside others, in shaping the movement to renew Judaism as an instrument to heal the heart and the world

"Avatar," Exodus, & Kabbalah

The film AVATAR weaves together what we usually call the spiritual and the political. Indeed, whether its director realized it consciously or not, AVATAR echoes two major strands of religious wisdom that began in Jewish thought but have had deep influence on cultures far beyond the boundaries of Jewish peoplehood. The two strands of ancient wisdom are "archetypal" -- that is, they appear over and over again in human thought because they arise in human experience and yearning -- with or without conscious transmission of the stories.


[This is a thoroughly revised version of Chapter 9 of my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most recently published in 1990 by Beacon Press.
[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic. Readers -- both Jews and others -- tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them.

When God Blows Away an Army

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 4/28/2005

According to tradition, the Israelite band of runaway slaves crossed the Reed Sea on the seventh day of their flight from slavery. So on the seventh day of Passover, as well as in the regular reading of the Toraah in B'Shallach, the Torah reading is the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) .

That is what Moses and Miriam sang in triumph when the army of Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Place, was shattered as YHWH, the Breath of Life, became a hurricane of transformation.

Several thoughts about this reading;

Manna: The Taste of Freedom

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 12/26/2004

The Taste of Freedom

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *

Even before Sinai brings its verbal command to remember Shabbat, the people learn it — through eating. They learn it in the story of the manna. (Exodus 16: 13-30)

This food comes freely. Every day, the manna falls. The people learn to gather just enough to meet their needs for one more day. Any surplus rots away, and reeks of greed or fear.

The manna does not require sweat and toil to bring it forth from a hostile earth, as the ending of the Eden story warned would be the lot of humankind, "all the days of your life." And so it betokens a newly free and playful reconnection with the earth.


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