Each year on Pesach, we say, “In every generation, every person is obligated to see themselves as if they (themselves) had come out of Egypt. בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם--b'chol dor vador, chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim.” We know, “Egypt” in this case, is a stand in for slavery, or a place and time in which we were not truly free. We are not only supposed to “remember” our times of bondage, but see ourselves in it. Why is it so important for us to reflect on the times when we were not free, and what can we learn from these moments?
This week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, is largely about consequences. When I first skimmed through it, I’ll admit I was mildly disappointed, because this parsha seemed so formulaic: if you follow God’s laws, God will grant you peace and prosperity. If you violate God’s laws, God will reign down on you a long and terrifying list of punishments. But I don’t believe in a God that sits up in the clouds, judging and punishing me for my transgressions. And because I don’t believe in that God, this parsha seemed near impossible to relate to.
On Feb. 10, the Asiyah community convened our second Village Gathering—an opportunity to come together and dive deep into thinking about community formation. This time around, our conversation centered on what it means to belong. Our goal was to further Asiyah connections/community-building and envision what belonging to Asiyah might be, especially in light of the Asiyah Cultivation Crew’s (ACC) active planning of a partnership structure for Asiyah.
On Jan. 16, the Asiyah Cultivation Crew, our valiant advisory committee, set aside half of their Sunday to take a deep dive into helping vision our community’s next steps. We started out with a State of Asiyah report, detailing all the programming currently under way and in the wings and with a look at our newly updated budget. However, the bulk of our time was spent on whittling all the possible goals we might have for Asiyah in 2019 (see brain cloud above) down to three.
I had an enlivening conversation last weekend with the heilege/holy Yiscah Smith over dinner at Asiyah member Mikhael Reuven and Naomi Kling's wedding. We were talking about lights, as one does on the last night of Hanukkah, and she recalled an anecdote from one of her Chabad teachers. "If you bring a match close to a burning havdallah candle, the smaller fire from the the match will naturally lean toward the larger one of the candle.* So it is with human souls and the Divine."
It reminded me of one of Reb Zalman's oft-repeated sayings, that just as plants are heliotropic, reaching for the sun, human beings are theo-tropic, reaching for the Divine. We yearn to be closer to the Source of Life or the Grandeur of Creation, or whatever moniker makes sense to us.
Sometimes it feels right there, and sometimes it feels impossibly far away. This is called being human! It also points to the reason spiritual practices are called "practices"—because they're not about perfection or an end goal, but rather a commitment to be in the circle dance. Lucky for us, the entry level of Jewish spiritual practice is also communal, so that even if we're feeling far from God, we can at least feel closer to people.
Being human is hard. Spiritual practice doesn't have to be. Just put it in your calendar and join in the dance.
Last week I was in Israel/Palestine, on a tour of intentional communities with Hakhel, Hazon’s intentional communities incubator, for which Asiyah was selected in the spring. Over six jam-packed days, our group of 12 community leaders from the US, Mexico, Ukraine, and Russia visited communities up and down the country. The diversity of communities we saw was stunning, and two things captivated me as I made my way through these many places…