Welcome to #TorahForTheResistance
We wake up nearing Inauguration Day in a dark and uncertain time. You are right to be worried. You are right to respond by running toward action, by taking to the streets. You are right to try and figure out how we get through this.
And as you jump into the fight, if you are beginning to notice the cracks at the edges, to notice the cracks within you, you are right. Maybe you leave a protest and are asking questions about what we do moving forward more long term. Maybe you are unsure how all of us separate movements work in unison towards a larger vision of a new reality. Maybe you are already feeling exhausted after taking to the street day after day for a different cause.
In a much less uncertain and ominous political reality, I felt that exhaustion, I felt those cracks. I had been a community organizer for nearly four years, first working to build a union of early childhood educators and then a student movement working for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to the Israeli occupation. And I was starting to burn out, big time. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the issues or the people affect: it was just that the exhaustion got bigger than all of this.
So this became a question for me: how do I make my mission, vision, relationships, and sense of accountability bigger than my exhaustion? How do I stay in a hard fight when things feel too hard?
For me, one of the answers was to engage with torah (not simply the Five Books of Moses but the large expanse of Jewish wisdom that we call torah) and use it to develop a capacity to notice something much larger than I am able to immediately discern. I saw how close friends were benefitting from cultivating this awareness through meditation and mindfulness practices within their traditions, and this pushed me to look at the wisdom and practices of my tradition. And having been raised in Jewish community, I knew of the practice of turning to torah in times of turmoil and deep need, so that’s what I did. The torah of my teacher Rabbi Art Green helped me begin to develop this deeper discernment. He taught me the idea of “mystical panentheism”, that God is present throughout all of existence, that God underlies and unifies all there is. And we can access it by “a lifting of veils, a shifting of attention to those inner realms of human consciousness” (Radical Judaism, 18).
What does it mean to lift the veil, to shift our attention to these inner realms? This is not an inward escape into the soul, but rather a deeper noticing of the world as it is and the world as it could be, a deeper noticing of our world’s brokenness and potential. 16th Century Kabbalist Isaac Luria articulates these realities in his rendition of the Creation myth (here, rearticulated in a modern, poetic form):
In the beginning, before the world was created, there was only God, the source of life. And then, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand, thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And God contracted Godself into vessels in order to make room for creation and human beings. And then, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand, thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day. (Adapted from the words of Rachel Naomi Remen in her On Being interview. The primary source for this can be found in Chaim Vital’s work “Eitz Chaim”)
Underneath our immediate reality, our world contains two strong, opposing life forces: a tendency to fragment, and a desire for Ultimate wholeness. Yet in the world we live in, fragmentation and brokenness, has come to dominate. This has had devastating consequences: dehumanization, violence, indifference, and environmental destruction, all for the sake of power, wealth, and domination.
Yet this fragmentation is not the desirable or even inevitable reality:
Now, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby restore the innate wholeness of the world. The vessels broke, and we are here to heal this brokenness and to put the pieces back together. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world. (Remen, On Being)
Our work as activists is ultimately the restoration of the world. Whether we use the language of justice, peace, or dignity, we as activists are not simply interested in simply making progress on a single issue but in transforming the world into the world as it should be, into a world that ensures human dignity and justice for all people, where it becomes possible for the human spirit to be nurtured and for love of humanity to be the operating principle. The more we can connect our hearts, souls, and minds to a larger mission and vision of justice and transformation, the greater capacity we will have to do hard work, to take risks, to be our most creative selves, and to move forward in the face of uncertainty. Torah offers us this connection.
This is where #TorahForTheResistance comes in. I am committed to creating greater access to this wisdom, to create opportunities for folks in the resistance to tap into this larger vision, mission, and tradition. I invite you all to join me in raising up the holy sparks of Torah for the resistance- just use #TorahForTheResistance when you do so! I hope you find this as useful as it has been for me.
Stay tuned for more torah coming at you soon.
Mimi Micner is a 3rd year Rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA and formerly a community organizer with the AFT and J Street U. She is an activist, Jewish educator, and community organizing trainer.