True confessions in times of COVID:
During Passover, I would listen to the Mutual Aid Hallel service while wrestling with my kids in bed underneath a tallit. It was the best way to meet all our needs at once. Call it my quarantine “"prayground," if you will. At one point, I jokingly said aloud, "We are wrestling with G!D," which I personally got a kick out of. Fast forward to this morning, when my kids jump in my bed. I tell them excitedly it's Rosh Hodesh, which means we get to sing Hallel. Without skipping a beat my three-year-old responds, "Yay, wrestling with G!D!"
Mind you, he knows nothing of Jacob's encounter with an angel. And he has yet to explore his own existential ambivalence about the existence of Divinity at large. So as far as he is concerned, nothing is more fun than wrestling with G!D. And as far as I am concerned, nothing is more necessary. I have been wrestling with G!D all week. How else could it have been? This was the week marked in the cycle of the omer by gevurah, which draws on the qualities of strength, discipline, boundaries, power. And never have I felt less disciplined, less in control, less fit for the world. Where as hesed is associated with the right hand, gevurah is associated with our left hand. And in so many ways we are living in what Gloria Anzaldúa describes as El Mundo Zurdo, the Left-handed World. A world of radical imagination, blurred boundaries, multiple truths, self-sovereignty, and transformative connections. For Anzaldua, El Mundo Zurdo holds redemptive power. In the defining collection, This Bridge Called my Back, she writes:
"The pull between what is and what should be. I believe that by changing ourselves we change the world, that traveling El Mundo Zurdo path is the path of a two-way movement – a going deep into the self and an expanding out into the world, a simultaneous recreation of the self and a reconstruction of society. And yet, I am confused as to how to accomplish this" (208).
This is why I pray. To journey inward and expand outward. To connect to my own vulnerability and agency. Every time I put on my tallit, I find myself in the pull between what is and what should be, connected to this two-way movement inward and expanding outward, to this left-handed world of gevurah.
אַתָּה גִּבּור לְעולָם אֲדנָי
Atah gibor l'olam Adonai...Your power endures within and beyond me.
מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶסֶד
Mechalkel hayyim b'hesed...You sustain all life with loving kindness.
Anzaldúa continues, "I'm trying to create a religion not out there somewhere, but in my gut. I am trying to make peace between what has happened to me, what the world is, and what it should be."
It is through this embodied peacemaking, this wrestling with G!D, this sacred mixing of hesed and gevurah, that we are able to pivot from El Mundo Zurdo to the world of Tiferet - a world of balance, harmony, equanimity; a striving for beauty. In the words of poet-laureate Joy Harjo:
"The sung blessing of creation
Led her into the human story.
That was the first beauty...
There were many beauties in this age
For everything was immensely itself:
Green greener than the impossibility of green,
the taste of wind after its slide through dew grass at dawn,
Or language running through a tangle of wordlessness in her mouth..."
This is the invitation of tiferet.
On this new moon of Iyyar, may we have the courage to lay down our fight (however playful or prayerful it may be), and rest in the beauty of the dark night sky, the greener than green of Spring, and everything that is immensely itself.
Hodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. Please enjoy this week's Torah reading brought to you by KT leyners, such a gift!
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.