Rabbinic Reflections: Internally ever after

I planned to write about the Cubs winning the World Series. Rabbi Solomon Schechter, the second president of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, from which I am ordained, famously said, “Gentleman, in order to succeed in the American rabbinate, you must be able to talk baseball.”

Indeed, the 108-year wait to win a World Series had taken on messianic overtones. The Chicago faithful had to wait until the end of an extra inning, after a rain delay, at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series to see the end of the curse and to fly the “W.”

Jewishly, the idea that no fate is written in stone, that we must believe that our free will can change the future now is encapsulated in the phrase ayn mazalot l’yisrael [there is no horoscope for Jews]. Well, the world is certainly different now.

Let me note right away that I will not be addressing the election’s politics. Instead, I would like to explore the religious ideas that I came across because of the election and that I think have promise for us all. In particular, I wish to share some of the thoughts of Henri J.M. Nouwen.

Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and theologian who lived most of his life in the latter half of the 20th Century. A gentle spirit with clinical training in psychology, he has a way of writing about people that is so real, so full. In his book “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World,” he writes to his friend Fred whom he first met when Fred was a journalist interviewing him because it was a job that paid Fred. Somehow, Nouwen just knew that Fred was holding himself back in life and pushed Fred to be himself.

The rest of the book, though, is about avoiding becoming a slave to today’s world, about not feeling trapped, and about gaining perspective beyond the daily grind. All the more so in a stagnant economy, in a world where we seem to be going nowhere or slipping backward, Nouwen’s message resonates 20 years after his death. His message: we are beloved.

As beloved sons and daughters, we can access a spiritual life that changes how we experience joy and sorrow. Since Fred is Jewish, Nouwen translates Christian belovedness into Jewish chosenness. Neither is to the exclusion of others; both are conceptions of purpose in the world. For Nouwen, being beloved means being taken, blessed, broken, and given. Like bread to be eaten and shared, so are we meant to see ourselves as a gift.

Whatever our challenges, the challenges are external to who we are as beloved creatures. The pain is no less but it is not who we are. Moreover, if we remember who we are (beloved, chosen) we can see the same gift in others. We can be like Nouwen was to Fred, lifting ourselves, and others, out of self-destructive drudgery to be “given,” to be contributors.

Nouwen’s ideas are beautifully expressed. His love for others is palpable. I felt uplifted by reading his book. I don’t think his concept is easy to live, not for me and not for many. What makes it all the more striking, though, is that I learned about it from an answer to a question asked during the primaries. This concept speaks to Hillary Clinton.

I have to imagine that her ability to accept defeat, the defeat of a lifetime of effort, hinges on her strong sense that she is beloved by God. Internally, she knows who she is, how she was taken into public service, how she was blessed, how she was broken, and how she has given.

After this election, forever after, what would happen if we saw ourselves as beloved, as chosen? Externally, we will still have many difficult challenges, but internally ever after, how might we be?

* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington. Prior to that he was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years and he served as the rabbi for Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. He’s also one of several rabbis taking part in a radio show, The Rabbi Speaks, on WDEL. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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