Rabbi Chava Bahle, author of the following article, will be teaching a class at Ruach Ha’Aretz July 6 – 12, 2015 entitled: Deep Ecumenism and the Mystic Heart.
And a river flowed forth from Eden to water the garden, and it divided into four streams… and the name of the fourth is P’rat.
From the well of kindness, your love for humanity must burst forth … as a powerful movement of the spirit within you.
–Rabbi Abraham Isaak Kook, Orot HaKodesh
From the archetypal stories of Earth’s beginnings, the Jewish tradition embraces an underlying flow of oneness. According to the Talmud (Bechorot 55b), the name of the river P’rat [called the Euphrates] is related to the root p’ri — fruit, and thus implies abundance and fruitfulness. In Chasidic thought, P’rat is the “source of all rivers in the world, which flow from it; it is also identified as the underground water table which is the source of wells and springs. When one digs for water and reaches the water table — i.e. the river P’rat — a well of living water bubbles up to the surface.” (Chabad.org)
The well of kindness that moves through your spirit is a manifestation of the deep river of being that fills many wells. Woven into the fabric of our collective Jewish consciousness is an awareness of the deep oneness which underlies Deep Ecumenism. We live in a planetary time when this oneness, manifest as collaboration and cooperation, is no longer a nicety; it is a necessity.
Deep Ecumenism rests in part on five spiritual truths the Jewish tradition nurtures and knows well:
- generosity heals the world,
- hospitality makes for peace,
- triumphalism and arrogance divide us,
- fellow travelers must be cherished and treated with dignity, and
- change is inevitable.
Kindness and Generosity
The river of kindness that manifests as generosity and hospitality is well known to our tradition, hence we are taught, (Shabbat 127a): “Hospitality to guests is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shekhina.” A beautiful image comes to mind from Baba Batra (93b): “There was another fine custom in Jerusalem: A cloth was spread over the entryway [when meals were being served]. So long as the cloth was spread, guests entered.” Deep Ecumenism asks us to put the flag out. Generosity and hospitality are part of the deeply ecumenical soul.
The Hebrew word for “triumphal” is m’natze’ach, from the root netzach. Netzach appears on the tree of life as the quality of stepping forward boldly, overcoming obstacles, honoring our power. There is nothing wrong with netzach, except when it is not balanced and tempered by hod – humility and gratitude. Netzach run amok is triumphalism. Deep ecumenism and Jewish tradition ask us to be better balanced, knowing when to step forward, to celebrate our tribe, but also making space for the modesty that allows for learning from others and an appreciation for gifts that everyone can bring.
There has never been a time when we, as Jews, travelled alone. From the call to Sarah and Abraham and the Exodus from Egypt to who was allowed to pray in the Temple of Solomon, we have always walked with — and welcomed — fellow travelers. It is axiomatic to point out that the most often mentioned mitzvah in Torah regards the treatment of the fellow traveler.
In his article “Halachic and Social Challenges in the Orthodox Community: The Case of Converts,” Rabbi Barry Kornblau acknowledges that “mistreatment of strangers is a basic element of human nature throughout the world”, but Torah “forbids us to succumb to it by oppressing others who are strangers.” He concludes that the Torah proactively instructs us to overcome human nature “with the miztvah of ahavat ha-ger, to love the stranger and the alien … You must love the ger as yourself for you were gerim in the land of Egypt.” He concludes beautifully:
By linking these mitzvot to our nation’s formative experience in Egypt, the Torah is emphasizing that a central purpose of that … enslavement was to make us sensitive to others who are different from us.
The Reality of Change
Finally, and this is perhaps the most important way in which deep ecumenism is profoundly Jewish, change is inevitable. Our people knows this deep in our bones. Since the paradigm-shifting destructions of the temples, we have learned to adapt to change. In fact, we are really SKILLED at change. I would argue that the basis of rabbinic Judaism is the reality of a constantly changing world. Far from being something we should fear, we can reframe our narrative to embrace our strengths in this area. This is why the Dalai Lama dialogued with Reb Zalman z”l and others about how to live in galut successfully: His Holiness knows that we know a thing or two about change, adaptation and renewal.
Deep Ecumenism: Deeply Jewish
Deep Ecumenism, and the Aleph programs during this year that explore it, is a conversation we can have rooted in our competence as a culture/people/evolving religious civilization in these areas. “Oy vey!” is not a strategy for building positive relationships in the world. We must carry forward the best parts of who and where we have been as a people, to share these gifts with the world and enjoy the gifts from others. In this way, individually, in our communities and in the work of healing the planet, we join in the great fruitful river of oneness that flows beneath and within all things.