Detroit: This is Real and I am Completely Unprepared


I will be in Detroit tomorrow. If you are in the neighborhood, please join me and my family for dinner at Clark Park around 6p.m.

This is real and I cannot believe I've been walking for almost two months now.  I am both more prepared than I have ever been to step into the possibilities and responsibilities which will unfold before me, and I am completely unprepared.  Perhaps I now better understand the story of Passover, in which the Israelites had all the warning in the world about their impending departure and freedom from slavery, but somehow still waiting until the very last night, and were thus stuck with only being able to back matza, that bread-not-bread, which takes more like brick! How could they not be prepared?!? Now, I understand, at least a bit more. As I take more and more responsibility for creating a better world and take the risk of responding to the voice of my intuition, the more I do things that I am unprepared to do, and nonetheless need to be done.

The story of Passover started with an environmental catastrophe too, the famine which Pharoah's dreams foretold, and Joseph interpreted. It was that which drove the Jacob and his family to Egypt, and (at least according to one Midrash), it was Joseph's plan to buy up the extra food during years of plenty and then sell it back to the people in famine (but, naturally, at a markup), which eventually forced the population to sell all they own and eventually themselves into slavery to survive. How will humanity deal with the famines, droughts, forest fires and floods,  which are increasing in frequency and intensity? Will our "solutions" be wiser than that of Joseph? Who will we enslave in the process of saving our own hides?

I have been so, profoundly, touched, by the incredible grace and kindness of people who were formerly strangers, while being equally or even more stunned by people's sense that they have no power to make any big changes in the world. In an America which celebrates our democracy and freedom so loudly, that powerlessness is incredibly stark (though I can also relate to it very well). In a political and media culture which fosters fear, hate, and demonization, the kindness of former strangers, has been just as overpowering.

I have fallen in love as many times as there have been days, with each patch of Earth which gave me rest, each person who stopped to say hello, the clouds which gave me shade, and the people who asked me questions, the dogs who showed me love with their bark and tails, and with each synagogue and church which gave me shelter. I feel a deep curiosity and an investment, in the history and lives of each.

I have slept in National Parks and city parks, in (and next to) the homes of folks who identify as Conservative and Liberal, Republican and Democrat, folks who are well-off and folks living on the street,  in the back of restaurants and fire stations, with city folks and rural folks, and more. I have been met with deep bewilderment about what I'm doing and why, and without-question (by folks who know many others who have walked across the whole country or have done so themselves).

In the Jewish Calendar we have just entered the month of Elul, 4 weeks of spiritual and logistical preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe. The title of the blog post is a play on Rabbi Alan Lew's z"l book on the subject, "This is Real and You are completely Unprepared." One tradition has us blow a shofar (ram's horn), not just on the festivals but on each day of this month leading up to them. It is an attempt to wake up our soul, to the beauty as well as the suffering inside and all around us. It is the sound of compassion, reminding us that Isaac (and no child) should NOT be sacrificed on the altar of any god nor the ego of any father. Will we learn that lesson in time, so that the follies of our generation do not lead to the sacrifice of future ones? Will we leave them a habitable planet, will we model for them what it looks like to be fully human and take our rightful healthy place in the eco-systems? To what extent will we continue to thrash around like little children, exploring the limits of their power, with little awareness of its consequences.

These questions feel too big to ask, and certainly too big to answer. However, the majesty of the living world around is even bigger than that, and humanity's bandwidth for kindness much more than I think any of us realize. I will end with a teaching from the Mishna, a 2nd century collection of Rabbinic teaching, "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it" (Pirkey Avot, 2:21).

With Love,

Rabbi Moshe

P.S. If you're reading this , but havemt heard from me in a while and want to know more about the Pilgrimage and Climate Change, you might not be reading my FB feed at www.facebook.com/pilgrimagerabbi