I have no answers to what we are living through now. It is bewildering, dangerous, unnerving and anxiety provoking. The news of these past days has shocked us, disturbed us and is riveting . History, it seems, is a lesson we have trouble learning. For we Boomers, there are eerie overtones of 1968. Violence in the streets, upcoming political conventions, out of sync rhetoric and a general dis-ease of society. Some of us thought we had been there already and maybe learned lessons. But that was 2 generations ago, in a world now so very far away…yet!!!
Ross Douthat, in the Review section of N.Y. Times of Sunday (July 10) writes a very timley column called “Are We Unraveling?” He draws on some parallels between our youth and today as well as some differences. He notes some comparison with the Millenial generation (now outnumbering Boomers) and some of the “echoes” of then to now. Yet, he ends with a sort of somber optimism by saying “may the cup of crises pass from us , and soon”. I was also struck by a very simple and profound comment by the Dallas mayor the morning after the shootings. He was asked what can be down and he directly spoke saying that we need to be careful with what we say, as words have an impact.
It reminded me of a famous Midrash that many of our clergy know about gossip and the power of words. The term “lashon ha ra” comes to mind. It is a story of a rabbi who wanted to teach a person a lesson about how words can hurt, destroy, even have impacts that are unintended. He asks the person to cut up a pillow and watch as the feathers spread. Then he askes that the person gather up those feathers and stuff them back into the pillow as before. Impossible, as the wind carries the feathers, thus the lesson from the rabbi that words can be like these feathers, once spoken, they cannot be put back.
Perhaps this small story from our tradition is one we need to remember. Words do matter. What we say and how we say them impact so many others. And words, as the traidion tells us, can inflict immeasurable harm. If ever we need a moment to celebrate kindness, compassion and love and understanding, it is now…..before chaos ensues.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.