Spirituality & Politics

Dear Friends

The election of Donald Trump has had an effect on the OHALAH list similar to that of Israel in past years. The assumption by some contributors that all members share more or less the same responses leads to pushback from others who feel themselves in the minority. Occasional sharp responses reinforce this sense of not truly belonging and lead to a fear of sharing, further distorting the discussion.

In my contribution to this discussion, I wrote, in part:

The Alter Rebbe wrote in the Tanya that every Jew is prepared to die al kiddush hashem at the moment of saying the sh’ma; but that willingness fades as soon as s/he leaves shul. So his whole book is aimed at people like us and is directed toward helping us maintain that consciousness of complete surrender to and identification with what the Holy One is asking from us at any given moment. Yes, Reb Zalman didn’t want us fighting with one another. But it is also Reb Zalman who began advocating for eco-kashrut, for a respect of the living consciousness of the planet, for a spirituality and practice which engages the world.…So these are the “political” issues I believe are appropriate and needed on our list. How are we practicing what we preach? What can we learn from each other about issue based advocacy from a spiritual perspective? How do we highlight and reinforce values and courage through the study of kabbalah, creative liturgy, and modelling?

It seemed that no one noticed what I wrote (except for one off line response) and, a few days later, someone again asked what would Reb Zalman say about this issue, though I have no doubt that he would have responded in the way I suggested. At the same time, I also know that I was not being deliberately ignored. It is often the case that the discussion on this list, and I assume on others as well, moves so quickly and topics change so frequently, that a kind of forgetfulness is inevitable.

I receive the list as a daily digest and am always frustrated by how many previous posts I need to scroll through to get to the next message. I finally realized that this is likely because most people receive each post as a separate message, immediately hit reply, adding another message to a growing list. And, at the same time, awareness of the thread becomes limited to the previous message alone, to which the contributor is responding.

I believe that this is what happened to me as my message moved farther down the list. It simply was no longer visible as others added their own thoughts during the time it took me to decide to write, to actually write, and then to post.

So, I have two suggestions:

1. Switch to a daily digest, read the thread at least as it existed for the day in question, and then post your own thoughts. This will lead to a deeper thoughtfulness and would also be the equivalent to listening to several points of view before sharing your own. And a by-product would be that the list contains fewer repostings of the same messages.

2. Give serious consideration to what I believe Reb Zalman would be saying to us, namely that our responses to the current political situation in the U.S. arise from our deepest consciousness of the unity of all in the One, the awareness of Gaia as a living being, and a desire to build connections between people and between people and the planet.

Two examples:

1. Paul Krugman recently wrote that Trump voters are going to experience another round of betrayal and abandonment when what he now calls “Ryancare” passes. Assuming he is right, how can we reach out to these people, not to lecture them from a moral high ground or “I told you so,” which only stiffens their resistance to evidence, but from a place of compassion and empathy. This is a spiritual question with serious practical implications.

2. In another N.Y. Times column, the author wrote that cultivating people who voted for third and fourth parties is the key, since they constitute more than enough votes to have changed the balance in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. I see that as a solid argument based on analysis of voting data and, at the same time, an expression of politics as only about winning, no matter how the losers then feel. I think that weakness manifested during the Obama years. So, assuming that the chances of a progressive win could be greatly increased by this strategy, and likely it can, then how do spiritual people help to structure that win so that it doesn’t feel like warfare against those who hold another point of view, particularly since that demographic is older and a diminishing percentage of the electorate? Every Yom Kippur we pray that we not be thrust aside when we become old, so how do we show respect for those whose influence is waning?

Despite the fact that I live in Canada, almost every discussion I have here turns to the U.S. and Donald Trump. We are as worried and fearful as Americans are. Climate change knows no borders, fossil fuel extraction and shipping affects us all, and Canadians are acutely sensitive to developments south of border because of their immediate impact on our lives. So I offer my thoughts from the same places of fear and apprehension.

Two signs of a successful spiritual practice are the ability to remain focused in spite of distractions and keeping the long term vision present as we respond to the immediate.

My prayer is that we help each other to sustain our personal spiritual practices and to respond compassionately and effectively to the needs of the moment in ways that advance the coming of mashi’ach, may that be soon.