March 22, 2013 admin

The voice of fine silence

Pesach is the festival of our freedom, zeman cherutenu, not only because thousands of years ago we were liberated from slavery in Egypt, but so that we should dedicate ourselves to freedom ever after. This has always been a characteristic of Jewish ethics at their strongest, from the day Moses confronted Pharaoh to the date when Abraham Joshua Heschel marched next to Martin Luther King, and in numerous situations inbetween and since, in Israel and throughout the world.
There are two dimensions in which we are required to fight for freedom. They are quite distinct, yet ultimately connected.
The first is more obvious and concerns the world around us. The fact that most of us enjoy what may be the greatest measure of freedom of any generation of Jews in history, due both to the development of open democracies, and to the creation of the State of Israel as such a country, does not exempt us from the struggle to obtain those freedoms for others and to protect them for us all. Slavery, the trade in women, torture, violent abuse, the inability to be free of hunger, thirst and illnesses readily cured in other parts of the world, the maiming of innocent lives in the debris of war, the ravages of militias, the savagery of tyrannous governments, the repression of free speech, the crushing of creativity, the prevention of the right to practise one’s religion and follow one’s culture peacefully and with equal respect for others, – if our Seder has not touched on any of these concerns then what was the point?
To some, the requirement to be morally engaged is rooted in the Torah, in the dignity with which God invested every human being at creation through bestowing upon each and every one of us God’s own image, and in the commandments to pursue justice and practise compassion. To others the imperative calls out from Jewish history; the experience of having suffered persecution so much and so often engendering a sensibility and a responsibility which require us to cry out. Indifference is unthinkable, commitment an obligation.
At the same time, there is a different kind of freedom which the human experience summons us to seek. It is a profound inner freedom, and we are liable to need its resources at unpredicted moments. ‘At the still point of the turning world’, wrote T. S Eliot. Is there such a space within us? How do we find it? Is there a proven path by which to discover it? These questions come home to us most sharply precisely when our world is set turning by anguish or illness, when what we thought was safe and permanent proves as fragile as the certainty that we and those we love will be healthy and there for us for ever.
It is at such times in particular that we need an inner space, a place of quiet and calm, a place in the stillness of which we can listen like Elijah to the voice of fine silence and hear or feel the unspoken presence of God within all things and with us. It is a place of beauty and grace, a place of comfort and strength, a place of wisdom, in which we know that our consciousness belongs to something deeper than all the accidents which afflict mortality. Most of us merely and occasionally touch the edges of that space. But it is worth pursuing those paths which we sense can guide us there, paths of quietness, music, contemplation, prayer; paths which follow whatever ways bring us inner calm and spiritual composure, for when we need it we will want to be able to find that sacred place.
I sometimes wonder whether it is the knowledge of the existence of this space which gives to those who have campaigned most fearlessly for justice the courage and the dignity to do so.

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