really, so what is normal?

I am happy to get back to my washing machine.

I love my washing machine.

I am grateful for its convenience.

When adding clothes just now (before the impending storm, thinking about possibly not having a machine for who knows how long if the power goes out for who knows how long???), and not putting it on “normal”, I re-thought about this word. I have talked about it a lot, I know (okay, here and here and alllll the way back to here, with many many others), I revisited about how easy it is re-acclimate to the new. How the new normal is so normal so quickly. And how we often pretend that our ability to adjust is what gets us through the day.

And night.

Flexibility, right?


What if we forget ourselves in the process? How do we hold onto what’s really important? How do we stay focused while we get pommeled about? How do we stay calm during the storm?

So I think that’s where Torah comes in.

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo points out in his essay “To Be a Stranger is to Be Moral”,

Of great importance is the fact that we are asked to look after the stranger because of our own experience in Egypt. Here we are confronted with a crucial aspect of Jewish moral imperative. The demand of what is seemingly the most important of all commandments,to care about the stranger, can only have sufficient authority when it is substantiated by the appeal to personal experience…

What the stranger lacks is security, a feeling of home and existential familiarity. Paradoxically, it is this deficiency that creates the climate in which man can be sensitized to the plight of his fellow men. It leads to the realization that there can be moral hope only as long as man is somehow unsettled. Man’s quest for security will obstruct his search for meaning and purpose, while his lack of security will impel the unfolding of his moral powers. It is clearly this fact that underlies the ongoing repetition of the commandment to look after the stranger “because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

What this means is that for a nation to maintain sensitivity and concern for “the other,” it must continue to live in some form of strangerhood. It must never be fully secure and must constantly be aware of its own existential uncertainty. As such, the Jew is to be a stranger. Only in that way can he become a moral beam of light to the nations of the world, a mission that above anything else is the reason for his Jewishness. The Torah is a protest again humans feeling overly secure, for it is aware that the world will become a completely insecure place once people begin to feel too much at home and consequently forget their fellow man.

And Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks says about this week’s parashah:

To be sure, at the highest levels of mysticism, G-d is to
be found in the innermost depths of the human soul, but G-d
is equally to be found in the public square and in the
structures of society: the marketplace, the corridors of power,
and courts of law. There must be no gap, no dissociation of
sensibilities, between the court of justice (the meeting-place
of man and man) and the Temple (the meeting-place of man
and G-d).

So it’s in in our daily grind, how we practice practice practice, that makes sure that we keep G-d in the details.



3 responses

  1. Pingback: what should i call this? | Learning from the Learned

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