From time to time I think back to the old joke about the man who went to the doctor to sort out his aches and pains. Aware that initial appointments cost $100 while subsequent visits were only $50, he said with a smile as he entered the consulting room: ‘Here I am again doctor’. ‘Well’, said the latter, looking him over with a smile: ‘As for the treatment, just carry on the same as before’.
I’m lucky: I like most of my ‘same as before’. If I could have the time back when the children were small, the dog just a puppy, the light rain drying off the rowan trees and the sun shining back from the puddles on the path – I’d have it, please, right away.
But the world is not in a state where we can carry on just as before. The earth is too beautiful, life too precious, and the future of its children too great a responsibility. ‘Do something; change your ways’, they’re demanding as in their hundreds of thousands they strike about climate-change across the globe. Perhaps, in an oblique, disturbed and disturbing way, the gangs who do knife-crime are saying something similar: ‘We want a future: meaning, value, hope’.
Shabbat Hachodesh, ‘the Sabbath of the New Moon’, falls this year precisely on the new moon of Nissan. It opens the month of spring, the month of Passover, when we tell our ancient story: ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt’….
‘Why?’ a teenager asked me: ‘Haven’t we got better experiences to talk about?’
My immediate answer was that one can’t be a healer unless one feels how the world hurts. Those hurts are urgent.
‘Help’, says my colleague Levi Lauer from Israel: There are 900 single asylum-seeker mothers here. Their problems are multiple: ‘PTSD; separation from friends and churches; extreme language and cultural estrangement; a propensity to resort to corporal discipline of their kids; long undertreated medical issues…’ I’m not going to not answer on behalf of our community.
‘Put a hot red pepper on your Passover plate’, say Jews supporting Extinction Rebellion: think what to do about the world heating up. (The first site which came up when I googled the group was ‘Synagogue of Satan – Jewish Supremacy’, with a Swastika in the middle. What vile abuse!)
Look through a turtle’s or an albatross’s eyes at the plastic you dump in the sea, says David Attenborough of Blue Planet. In the queue at the bakery I chatted with the woman behind me about how both of us had brought our own bags. ‘Anyone who says we need less plastic’, the lady behind her chimed in, ‘Is an anti-Semite. We need more plastic, not less’. (What folly. How foolish, too, to misapply and trivialize anti-Semitism.)
‘Begin again’, teaches Rabbi Haim Haika of Amdur, in a penetrating re-reading of Hachodesh, ‘this month’, as ‘Heichadesh: Renew yourself’. Habits, he continues, have a way of imprinting themselves on your insides. (‘Habit’, teva, and ‘print’, matbia, are also from the same root in Hebrew). Don’t let that happen.
I don’t want to cheat life. I don’t want not to care. I don’t want the God who resides in all life to turn me away with a cheap answer because I wanted a cheap getaway. I need to say to God, to all life, to the spirit which lives within us all, to the ultimate healer, ‘I am here. Help me not to carry on the same as before.