Friday, August 10, 2018

Parashat Re'eh: Differing Narratives

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Re’eh, which, among other things, foretells the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. The parasha tells the Israelites to destroy all the altars they encounter when they enter the land of Israel, meaning the idolatrous idols. Moses says, “You shall not do this to your Lord.” However, there are several generations between this and when Solomon builds the Temple, and in the meantime, priests build altars in each tribe’s land. Once the Temple is built, the Books of Kings would have us believe that there is no longer any need or desire for these lesser temples. There are passing references in the Prophets of these altars being destroyed, mostly blaming the Israelites for turning toward idolatry. The Haftarah for this parasha promotes the supremacy of the Temple in Jerusalem, and being a Haftarah of consolation, assures the Israelites in Exile that they will once again make sacrifices there.
I recently read The Secret Book of Kings, a book translated into English from Israeli author Yochi Brandes’s מלכים ג, meaning III Kings. It tells the story of much of the Books of Samuel and Kings from the perspective of Saul’s family. It posits that these books of the Bible were written by what amounts to David’s propagandists. From the point of view of The Secret Book of Kings, Solomon had his goons destroy the altars and temples in all the tribal lands when he was building his Temple to force the Israelites to come to Jerusalem any time they wanted to make a sacrifice to HaShem. To be sure, in The Secret Book of Kings, these local altars are unquestionably to the One God of Israel, and not to the Queen of Heaven as the prophets claim later in our Bible as if to comply with the prophecy in this week’s parasha, yet still they are destroyed.
This is just one of many possible examples of how there may be multiple narratives surrounding a singular event. Of course, The Secret Book of Kings is a self-described fiction book, whereas the Books of Samuel and Kings have at least some historical backing. Yet, the realities from our Bible which are verified by archeology do not necessarily contradict anything in the novel and we know historically that ancient archives were chronicled by those in the palace, often exaggerating for the sake of elevating the king’s doings or the military successes of the ancient civilization doing the chronicling. Even to this day, we talk about how history is written by the victors and there may be multiple narratives to every tale told.
This week marked the anniversaries of the two atomic bombs dropped on civilian cities in Japan. On Monday, a story came out that the last surviving member of the crew that flew over Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 has no regrets about his participation in the deaths over approximately 160,000 people. To be sure, I do not want this 95-year-old who served our country bravely to be wallowing in regret. I understand that the Japanese bombed the U.S. first and that the crew that dropped the bomb didn’t know it was an atom bomb and that even the people who did know what they were sending really didn’t understand the long term effects of such a bomb. But if we heard the narrative of that day or of the ensuing years of radiation from someone who live in or around Hiroshima, what would that story look like? Would it cause a twinge of guilt or regret in those responsible? Would it shock those of us who grew up on a different telling of the tale?
Differing narratives doesn’t necessarily mean one is right and one is wrong. It just means there were multiple experiences of the same occurrence, and different fallouts for the people involved and often also the people surrounding or descending from the people involved. Realizing this does not have to cause regret, but it can be an opportunity for pause. For reflection. For teshuvah. Teshuvah does not just mean repentance or have to connote feeling sorry; the word also means returning and answering and could also be a means of taking ownership of difficult choices one had to make and stand by.
The spiritual realm for this day of Sefirat HaBinyan is Chesed she’b’Hod, Kindness in Majesty. Reb Zalman’s reflection for this day is, “Once upon a time we were children. If lucky we had loving parents to take care of and nurture us. They were the support posts to lean against as we stretched ourselves out into the world. How kind they must have been to put up with all our silliness. I am reminded of this as I spend the night in the house where I did most of my growing up. Each of us, mom and I, do things in our way in our respective worlds. Coming together now we must both be humble, be sensitive, and honor the other.” Just as children and parents often have different experiences of the same event, both real and valid, so too do most any two people or peoples. But we can come together in humility and sensitivity, honoring each other, and learn to see from the other’s point of view. In this way, we can become more balanced, holding up kindness and understanding as a crowning achievement.
Today there are 29 days left until erev Rosh HaShannah, which is 4 weeks, and 1 days. May we be vessels of majestic kindness, using this period of Sefirat HaBinyan for good, bringing peace and blessing to all those around us. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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