When the Children of Israel were wandering through the Wilderness of Sinai, they chanced upon many sights, some of which were wondrous and others that were mundane. One day as they weaved through the dry foothills before a great mountain range rising in the distance, they approached a dry riverbed, a wadi. Moses halted their journey and called the elders forward to examine this wadi. As they stared out at the dry bed, some of the elders grumbled that they had been disturbed for a bunch of nothing. “It is the dry season and there is no danger.” Others were silent, not knowing what to think or say. Finally Moses held up his hands and declared: “See that Adonai has shown you what was and what will be. Water has nourished this land in its season and when that season comes around again, water shall nourish this land again. This wadi is a sign of God’s hand in the world.”
The tale teaches us that Moses was a leader who had vision. However, the story begs the question of when are we looking a miracle when are we looking at a dry riverbed? The pious see God and the pragmatists see sand. Both are respectable interpretations that do not lead far. Neither belief nor pragmatism is enough in and of themselves. There must be more.
Consider the historical record of the Sinai-dwelling people called the Nabateans. They were wiped out by the Romans but the remains of their innovative civilization still endure. The Nabateans were familiar with most, if not all, of the wadis in the northern Sinai and Negev regions. Their signature structures were water retention systems built on the surface of a wadi. They started with a number of low level dikes across the breadth of a riverbed. Low level dikes do not stop the dangerously rushing waters of a spring flood but slow and pool the undercurrent of the flow. In between the dikes the Nabateans would bury large clay cisterns whose mouths were exposed in the bottom of the gully. As the water slowed on the far side of a dike, the water would drop into and fill the cistern. The water would remain still and clean throughout the dry season and would not evaporate, leaving water for the Nabateans throughout the year.
The problem for the believer and the pragmatist is they are only looking at the surface. While a synagogue maintains itself with belief and pragmatism, two necessary elements, there are more elements a synagogue needs, especially vision. The mission of a synagogue is not merely maintaining; the ideal is to thrive, to create a community that meets the needs of the future, such as cistern water in the dry season creates a possible future.
Of course a synagogue needs more than water. Whether you remember the synagogue with an endowment in your will or you jump onto a committee with budding ideas for programs, all of these contributions contribute to building our future. Synagogues do not merely exist from year to year. They are rebuilt every year with the sweat and effort of members during the previous year. Join us in our vision.
I had the opportunity to present at Lynbrook Library before their board of directors this past month. They did not understand the Holocaust workshop that we have used and wanted further clarification before they allowed it in the building. Am Echad and the Interfaith Clergy Council will be presenting this workshop on Thursday, May 24th from 3:00 to 9:00pm. I brought them four of the nine interactive boards and let them have at it. Some were eager and jumped to be the first to try the exercises but a few held back. Several kept returning to the “further information” pages and reading even as I continued with an explanation of why this workshop would be a good fit with the mission of the library.
I won them over but I also made a connection with a number of them beyond their capacities as members of a board. These individuals were hungry to learn and appreciated a different approach that this workshop presents. There is a hook in the presentation of these materials that they gladly grasped. These adults responded to the essential element that I seek in everyone I come across: curiosity.
Curiosity did not kill the cat. In fact, the entire American proverb reads “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” (The provenance of the proverb dates back to a 1909 publication if you are interested.) Once one has quenched the thirst of a search for the first time, I believe an addiction sets in to seek out again. Bucket lists come and go because they are fatally flawed by fad and selfish indulgence, but questions have an enduring element.
Inquisitiveness is the compliments of compliments on a report card. The questions spill out from everywhere and are a core of Jewish learning. “What happened next?” “Why did he do that?” The Bible is full of potent questions for which there are no easy answers: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s question echoes in every generation when brothers, sisters, and neighbors find themselves at odds with one another. The answer is “yes” or maybe “no” with circumstances and contexts taken into account. “Maybe.” Why is that?
God asks Jonah, “Should not I care about Nineveh . . . people who do not yet know their right hand from their left?” God says “yes” while Jonah says “no” and the prophet can prove it. God spats out to Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” or further, “Have the gates of death been disclosed to you?” These are the confounding questions that cause many to slam the book shut, giving up before the search really begins. Yet they are really good questions because their answers open up many avenues of worth and understanding.
The search for meaning in our lives begins with curiosity and that meaning is sustained by the same curiosity. Curiosity goads us, cajoles us and tantalizes us with possibilities. Spiritual seekers are steeped with the need to find.
Curiosity is the salve of our daily drudgery and allows us continue to seek and to read and to question and to challenge. Inquisitiveness is not a matter of age, maturity, gender or state of mind; in fact, it is a universal trait found all over the globe. People ask more questions today than ever before in the history of the world. Curiosity is compressed into a single text box on the front page of Google. One box, one question and the entire world is suddenly available.
Which question do you wish to ask first?
Israel has done again what no other nation in the world has ever done: brought together the most conservative leaders of the three great monotheist religions and have them agree on an issue. Unfortunately, the issue is Gay Pride Day scheduled for August 18 in Israel. Forget the murders, the terrorism, the bombs, mutilations, martyrs, and deaths of innocents, homosexuality is destroying the world, or so they would have us believe.
I wish this unholy alliance of so-called holy men was only an irony; but, no, it is a travesty and a crime. The other movements of Judaism and liberal Christianity are publicly protesting against these fundamentalists with some degree of success. The program has not been cancelled and the Israeli population is viewing the entire episode with typical sardonic apathy.
The purpose of the program is to promote understanding and create a dialogue for a maligned minority in Israel. The words the program promoters want to use are “reconciliation” and “personal responsibility.” These are words of peace and community and the travesty is the hatred that is directed at them.
The word “crime” was used, why? Because every other day of the week these fundamentalists are calling for Holy War, Expulsion, or Death & Damnation to nonbelievers. Suddenly they are friends in an unholy trinity of redirected hate towards gays? Such hypocrisy cannot go unanswered. As the news commentator on the idiot box says: “Give me a break!”