Open your eyes!
Thursday, 17 August 2017 | 25 Av, 5777
Looking around at the state of our world today it’s hard not to feel anxious at best, desperate at worst. Threats of nuclear war; incendiary hateful speech; the capital of democracy in disarray, if not dismay, at its capricious and churlish captain; carnage and terror in Madrid, conflict and famine across Africa and the Middle East. Closer to home they’re sharing the hatred in anti-Semitic graffiti across Melbourne schools and Jewish businesses and Pauline Hansen pantomimes.
At times like this it’s important to step back, take a breath, get perspective. When you’re feeling overwhelmed in your personal life, you need to take time out, go on a break or simply go for a walk. Those short weekends away can do wonders for your soul. It’s often not about how much time you take, but just about shifting your location. Being outside of your regular activities and the crazy rush that is so emblematic of our lives, lets you see more clearly, think with greater clarity about yourself and the state of the world. Being away last week in the crisp air and the mountains was personally good for a soul-shift. And then the Parasha of the week almost always gives me a similar fresh perspective. This week is no exception…
The Parasha is called “Reeh” (Dueteronomy 11:26) which means “See”, take a deeper look and it will help you see into the life of things, into what really matters. The Parasha opens with this call to take a look at life and to recognise that it’s a mixture of “blessings” and “curses”. Very often we only see the dark side, the curse of living, the illness and the suffering- perhaps of those dear and near to us; the malevolence of those who hate us; the agony of the victims of Barcelona ,mudslides in Sierra Leone; famine in Somalia, cholera in Yemen…
But the Parasha assures us that while pain and conflict are an inescapable part of living, it’s not all there is. There’s a mountain of despair, Mount Ebal but there’s also a hilltop of crystalline blessing. Noticeably, it’s the people themselves, not God, who are the carriers and purveyors of the bracha: “You [the people] shall deliver the blessings on Mount Gerizim” (Ibid 11:29). What an astonishing and empowering idea this is: it’s in our hands to bring bracha into the world. The starting point is to look down to the left and place your hand and confidence there: your heart. Start with your heart, begin with transforming yourself and your attitude. Rashi (Ibid 12:28) puts it this way: “Feel it and guard it in your guts”. This is the message, not only of our Parasha, but is a consistent theme throughout the Torah. “It’s in your mouth, your heart, to do it” proclaims Moshe. Isaiah and our great prophets speak passionately about Israel’s world transforming agenda but they also recognise that social (and certainly global) change begins within the soul of the individual. Change yourself and the impact is felt on those around you in ever-widening circles.
So whenever the world’s in trouble and even when “Maybe what they say is true of war and wars alarms” (Yeats), the Jewish way is to look up, climb up, bless your good fortune and get on with doing whatever you can. That’s what Jews have always done and that’s how we have contributed and will continue to contribute to civilization. Moshe did it. Maimonides did it. So did Einstein and Freud. So did John Monash. So can you and I. This is how we face the “pachad pitom” the terror of our times, Madrid, the Charlottesville and local haters. We open our eyes and the eyes of those around us.
The parasha not only opens with a visual image, it closes with one too: “Three times a year are all of your men to be seen in the Presence of God…” The pilgrimage command is associated with being seen in good company, in a good place, because that’s the best way to spread the goodness of your life and the wondrous gift of life God has given you!