Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Torah as self-care -- can the miracles sustain us?

We had a great day of learning here at Oraita, yesterday, including an amazing tour of the local woods where our guide Tom Wessels, opened our eyes to a new awareness of the complex web of human and natural systems that had gone into shaping that seemingly simple and ordinary landscape.

The tension between developing awareness and of seeing things as ordinary (ההרגל/hahergel in the language of the Kedushat Levi we reading the day before) has become a central theme of this retreat. Yesterday, we started to talk about how these themes apply in a very real way (I'm intentionally, _not_ using the word, practical, here) to our lives as rabbis. Art Green asked us what it is that sustains us as rabbis in the face of the challenge of working with people amid death and pain and suffering? How are we able to keep ourselves -- and our spirits! -- from being destroyed by all of that?

There is, of course, no one answer to this difficult and challenging question (of self-care). But the most common thing that people said connected directly to the texts about miracles (נסים/nisim) and (פלא/peleh) that we have been reading -- that it is cultivating an awareness of the "miracles that daily attend us" (in the language of the siddur) that sustains us.

For me, another way of saying this might be to think of a river (take a look a the imagery of Ezekiel 47). That is, my religious and spiritual life has cultivated in me a sense of life and the world as one unified thing that is flowing (creating, being created, renewing, dying). And that one thing is so beautiful . . It is so amazing. It fills me with awe, and I know it is the work of the Blessed Holy One.

And, so, when I see a thing floating in this river that is not beautiful to my eyes -- something that might even cause me deep pain to see like the unfathomable suffering of parents who have just lost a child -- I still have the river. I still know that somehow it is part of the river, that it is somehow part of that incredible thing that flows around me. . . . . The irony is that these can be for me the moments of the greatest awe at the greatness of God. I stand there before a person's pain and I say (in my heart, not my head) that I experience a profound acceptance that this, too, is part of God's design of the world. And it is part of the incredibleness that makes up the river.

But, it is certainly not everyday that I can both see the pain of a person (and feel a genuine sense of injustice about that) and the beauty of the river. In fact, most days I cannot. It takes work to be able to do that dance. It takes spiritual work. And that spiritual work is a form of self-care. And it's why I'm here at Oraita -- I'm here to let the waters of Torah, as presented to me by my teachers, wash over me, and (may it be the will of the Blessed Holy One) heal me.

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