[On Grace, War, and Impact]
I rarely get to see any physical trace of the runs I go on — I take the steps, add up the miles, and go on my way. As I was going around in circles this morning, grieving so much of what the world holds in it today, I noticed that — given the sleet, and my being the only person out today — I kept seeing my own footprints aggregating on the ground.
It gave me pause. Every day, we take steps — literally and figuratively — in our own journeys. Some of these journeys are public — how we grow as adults, parents, and professionals. Meanwhile, some of them are deeply personal — how we grow out of struggle, patterns that don’t serve us, and how we grow into trust. Every day, we make decisions that impact our lives immediately and eventually- and we make decisions that impact the lives of those close to us, and those far away.
When we choose to say, “oh that’s happening over there”, and move on with our lives while another nation faces war, destruction, major disruption, and its people face displacement and very real death — it is a shrug that is felt across oceans. War is not new to our planet, nor do we truly have a day where there is no war on the Earth. There are battles that we, in the west, do not hear about — or choose not to. Those of us with personal or religious ties to Israel feel this deeply several times a year — when rockets rain down on cities that hold our loved ones, and palpable fear is heard in their voices.
The approach of Shabbat feels heavy with the knowing that Russia — an autocratic power, scapegoating Jewish history, has attacked the sovereign nation of Ukraine, and much of the world is afraid to do much more than shrug. We pray — we pray so much — that others will act as we think we do — with intentions of kindness, cooperation, and community. We pray and send our hearts out to mothers, fathers, and babies who are suffering near and far. We said Tehilim (Psalms) in our classes, we held hands and wept silently — as we do, when the world is wounded. We send money when we are far away, to help organizations that are on the ground. We wish we could be there, helping. Instead, we are here, and we perform our mitzvot — even extra mitzvot — in the hope that we will bring more compassion to the world.
I cried last night as I brushed my son’s teeth, and read to my daughter as she fell asleep, because I had seen the videos of parents sending children away to other countries on buses. Some of us are descendants of such children, in a different war. My tears were of sadness for the world now, and fear — at the world we are creating for these children — our children. There will come a day where my fierce mothering will not be enough to shield them — and that day feels too close.
I search for the words from my faith’s teachings, as many of us tend to do in times of struggle. I come back to the age old proverb ‘וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ” — “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18)- a simple ask really, that we treat each other with respect and grace. Does one have to believe in G-d to believe in treating each other well?
Today, I also add — “on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace” from Pirkei Avot 1:18. It is a simple saying by a Rabbi many moons ago, but it suggests that without the simple agreements of keeping justice, truth, and peace with each other -our world becomes anarchical and full of danger. Without peace, even those who have whatever layers of privilege, will falter, as war will tear apart their lives.
I, like many, have been holding on to the hope that we are going through some kind of big “reset” — that what we have gone through as a global community will bring us together, teach us to cooperate, and guide us towards a greater truth. Instead, we are more divided, in more danger, and the search for justice and peace feels like running in circles.
The impact we make — big and small — the ways in which we show up for our own communities, and also for those that feel far away, and those that we might not understand, but they are hurting — it all matters, and it all adds up. We can think big, knowing and hoping that we have what it takes to create change, and we can perform small actions that get us there.
I invite us all this Shabbat to think about what big thinking and small actions we can do to work towards respect and grace. — Whether we are praying, connecting with those in need, donating to organizations, checking on neighbors and friends, or simply holding our children in safety and love — let’s let it help take us towards a world where we truly are held up with justice, truth, and peace.