second chances and YOU

Be-ha'alotecha
Numbers 8:1-12:16

What happens if I miss my chance to connect?
 
In this week’s parasha we witness a beautiful quality of the Jewish tradition. Instructed to bring a Passover offering on the new moon, a problem arises for those who were unable to bring their offerings. 

“But there were some men who were tamai/unclean by reason of a corpse, and could not offer the Passover offering that day.”(Number. 9:6) They ask, just because we have been in contact with a corpse, why keep us from the ritual of making the offering? Moses has no answer for this, and asks GD what to do.  The response shows the expansiveness of possibilities when we raise an objection.
 
Gd answers that not only can they make the offering a month later, but expands to the consideration of those  who were on a long journey and nowhere near the Tabernacle.  This model holds for us that when asked a specific question, we are encouraged that our answers widen the field and include more situations that might need the ‘compassionate judge’ perspective.  We are invited to ask, who else might need flexibility in perspective?
 
Our tradition is grounded in the premise that we are curious beings, always ready with the next question. We as a people place more weight on the next question rather than be satisfied with a previous answer.  We are the ‘what if?’ people, which keeps our minds open to heretofore unknown possibilities. After all, it is the ‘one who does not know enough to ask’ at the Passover seder that opens up the conversation about the liberation story of Exodus.
 
To hear a question that points out a lack of justice to an individual or to a group of people, and to have that question point the way to an even greater, more general principle of justice, is the way that we bring holiness into our world. May we never cease feeding our curious minds, and never fear asking the next question.  It could just lead to liberation!
 
--- Rabbi Jan

Last week, we took a look at the first word in the 'access code' of making a blessing: Baruch.  This week, I want to look at the second word, Ata.  Translated as 'You", there is a deeply embedded theology in this simple word.  

What does a blessing want of us? How does it feel to call out to someone if they are either very far away, or are way above our 'station' in life? Are we even sure that the distant one can discern what we are calling out?

The radical theology of the word, atah/you, is intended to create an intimacy with the Other. In the words of the philosopher Martin Buber, we create a blessing as an I-Thou experience, not an I-It.  A blessing is intended to close the distance between two beings, to create an opportunity to allow our hearts to vocalize into words in order to profoundly share  connection. We are hindered as English speakers in  that we have only one form of the word, you, which is neither formal or endearing. Other languages make this distinction, but not so Hebrew.  There is only you, at once imminent and transcendent. 

Yet we are struck with the duality of prayer: one prays to [another]. If we dig a bit more deeply, we can change that experience to, one prays with [another].How does using the direct, intimate word, You, help us to bridge that duality?

Rabbi Marcia Prager, in her wonderful book, The Path of Blessing, writes:

"...I know that beyond separateness lies another reality; only the language of relationship can take me there. And so I call out to the Other and enter into a covenant of mutuality.  I make a commitment to be present to that relationship".

This is the core of prayer, and the language which our tradition uses is profoundly disruptive. We embrace the immediacy of the other, be it human, earthly, or otherwise, by using a word that brings us closer together. 
---  Rabbi Jan