Friday, March 26, 2010

Rappin' with Rabbi Rosenbaum

I've been meaning to post this for a while--it's from a sermon given at Mercer Island's Herzl-Ner Tamid ("where something Jewish is always happening!") that mentions Urban Phantom. 

HEY, that's me! Sometimes I forget that I'm a bear.
Two stories dominated the news in Seattle this week...the first story that occupied our attention was the wanderings of a black bear that was spotted in Magnolia on Saturday night and made its way to the streets of Ballard and to Shoreline before finally disappearing from the scene, hopefully, back home into the woods.

The second story was that of a banker in Spokane who rescued 8 ducklings from a ledge outside of his second story window. On the national news, we watched these little ducklings nervously pacing back and forth on the ledge not knowing how they were going to get down to their mother down below. And, one by one each one jumped and this banker amazingly caught every single one of them and gently put them on the ground. He had to climb up and retrieve the last duckling himself. And, then traffic in Spokane stopped as a crowd of people led the ducks across the street and finally into the water.

Both the bear and the ducks had gotten lost in a world not their own. They had made a wrong turn into a dangerous neighborhood, namely ours. They had crossed over from the wild into human civilization. And, even though in the bear’s case there was some danger, we were cheering for them. We were delighted to have them as guests in our world, if only for a short time. Something about the presence of these wild animals in our midst thrilled us and delighted us to the core. For a moment, we were reminded of how much we love Nature for its own sake. Quite aside from the dangers of global warming and the practical consequences of climate disruption, we would lose something precious if the wild were to disappear.
Yeah! Then it goes on to say this:

Great civilizations strive to master nature and to keep nature at bay. We have heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. We fortify ourselves against floods and earth quakes, as we should. But, when we overdevelop our controlling and mastering side, we run the risk of turning it against each other. So the Egyptians, master builders that they were, squeezed the life out of their slaves in the name of progress.

And, so what was the very first sign of resistance to tyranny? Ki chayot hena. It was the wild within us: some elementary, primal life force within us that we share with the rest of Nature – the natural birth process that resisted mastery and regulation. It just erupted, it overflowed the boundaries of civilized control.

Much later in Jewish history, closer to our own time, another great leader who aimed to revolutionize Jewish life entered the wild. His name was the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic Movement. We are told that the Baal Shem Tov was a poor student. He hated to sit in class. He preferred to be out in Nature.

One day he simply left and went to live out in the woods. He slept in mossy hollows, eating wild berries. He learned the language of the birds and beasts and became the friend of all living things. After many years he returned to civilization as a young adult and he became a children’s teacher. But, instead of making the kids sit in class all day, he would take them into the woods and teach them all about the beauties of Nature. The parents were not happy, but they let it go.
But on one of these journeys, the Baal Shem and the children encountered a werewolf and the children were terrified and ran away. The Baal Shem wasn’t afraid. But, now, the parents were up in arms, and they refused to have their children have anything to do the Baal Shem Tov after that. And, the children grew up to be like their parents, serious, with their eyes turned towards work.
This is a fascinating story and it reminds me very much of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. In that story, the adults hire the piper to entice the rats out of the city. And, everyone was happy. But then he comes back and he entices all of the children out of the city with his sweet music. And, there is great mourning.

The dynamic going on in both of these stories is very similar. If we rid ourselves of the wild, we may find out that we have in the process rid ourselves of our children, too. Not our children in the literal sense – but the child in us. When Nature is endangered, there is something in our own nature that is also endangered. We risk losing touch with something essential inside of ourselves. It’s the part of us that gets excited about a bear in Ballard or ducks in Spokane, even though these creatures are of no immediate practical value to us.
...We think of mastering our impulsive nature and directing our primal energy into something constructive. And, that is all true. But it is not the whole story. Religion at its best is a road map to human growth. And, for us to grow to our fullest height, we need curiosity, imagination and courage. And, these are qualities that are cultivated by our contact with the wild.

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