For Congregation Ner Shalom
It is a well-known and empirically proven fact that we Jews get a neshamah yeteirah, a second soul, on Shabbat. This has been discussed extensively in the mystical literature, of course. And on the more scientific front, Medieval French commentator Rashi has proven it through his analysis of the phrase uv'yom hashvi'i shavat vayinafash (Exodus 31:17) - "on the seventh day God shavat, "rested" (from the same root, obviously, as shabbat) and God yinafash, "breathed or expanded." In the chemistry of the Hebrew language, the molecule yinafash is primarily composed of the atom nefesh, which is one of our words for Soul. So you could read the verse as "on the seventh day God 'sabbathed' and put some soul in it."
But more than from textual proofs, we know about our additional Sabbath Soul from our own experience. We know in our heads it's shabbos when we light that first candle. But we feel the influx of that neshamah yeteirah, as we see the second candle catch. If you were distracted and missed that moment, check it out right now. I'll bet you feel fuller now than you do on other days. Because you are fuller now, with these two souls stuffed in you, playing and embracing.
We look forward to the arrival of our Sabbath Soul every week and we welcome it. But, one must ask, do we ever ask it how things are back home, in the holy spiritual realms that it can inhabit? No we don't. And it's a shande, a disgrace.
So this week I thought I'd do just that. I got a bit of a jump on Shabbat, since it's dark so early now. I took the opportunity before services to sit down with my second soul, and have a good chat. I didn't really need to catch her up on my doings, but I did make a point of finding out what's happening in the realms of holiness and possibility that she spends her time flitting around in. And I was surprised. That world of holy potential looks so much like ours. The differences are small. And she caught me up on all the news. Here's what I learned.
This week in the realm of holy potential, the president issued an Executive Order on Immigration, reminding everyone that they had mostly all once been strangers in a strange land. Congress responded by passing a Welcome Wagon law, setting up checkpoints near borders. When immigrants are stopped, agents provide them with trail mix and water and a list of services, including schools, health clinics, housing options, job training and upcoming cultural events.
In California, a lot of rain fell all week. Because of good, widespread permaculture practices, this will mean excellent organic produce ahead. No mudslides were reported, and no houses fell into the ocean.
The State of Israel passed a nationality law. It states, "We the Jewish people have longed to be in this place for thousands of years. We look forward to sharing it with our neighbors who love it as much as we do." It's unclear what the legal effect of the law is, although multi-ethnic block parties are now cropping up all over the country.
In Ferguson, Missouri, two black teens were walking down the middle of a street late at night. A police officer rolled up and asked them to walk on the sidewalk. The young men said they didn't mind taking the risk. The officer is reported to have said, "Yeah, I was a kid once too," as he waved and drove away to fight crime and protect the public.
In what some see as a related story, a police officer in Staten Island came upon a man selling individual cigarettes, an act that business interests had made illegal. The officer began to chat with the man about the oddness of that law when he noticed the man's wheezing. Concerned about all the second-hand smoke he must be breathing, the officer ran home and grabbed the man a box of nicotine patches to sell instead. The officer and the man sat down and wrote a grant proposal for law enforcement and community members to walk the streets together offering public health interventions, now a model program in that world.
Students in Hong Kong protested for more democracy. A quick vote was taken throughout the country, and the rest of the population agreed.
The Centers for Disease Control came out with a surprise statement about circumcision, of all things! The statement pointed out that circumcision is associated with a 50% reduction in HIV transmission among heterosexual African men. The statement went on to say, however, that condoms are twice as effective, so there's no point using health as a reason for circumcision. "Deep down, it's really a cultural matter," said one CDC spokesperson. Jewish communities agreed and began a series of Town-Shul meetings to check in and see if this ancient ritual is still something we feel good about, or if there are other symbolic ways to welcome our children into the tribe that might make us feel even better.
It was noticed that Northern California sits about halfway between Kyoto and Vilna, and that is what makes it ideal soil for equal parts contemplation and Torah study.
Jews all over the world read the Torah portion called Vayishlach. In it, Jacob and his family have returned to Canaan after the years of his labor for Laban. Shechem, a local prince, sees Jacob's daughter Dinah and finds her spellbinding. He manages to catch her alone and make an arguably aggressive sexual advance. Dinah, however, says, "No, I barely know you." And of course it is axiomatic in this world that "no" means "no." So instead Shechem went home and began writing love poetry and heartfelt folksongs dedicated to her. Little by little he won her over, and when she was sure of him, she gave him a "yes." Jacob was at first bummed that Shechem was not of his tribe, but Dinah was so clearly happy, and Shechem was a decent guy. So Jacob and Leah paid for the wedding, and this signalled the first of many peaceful relationships established between the Children of Israel and their neighbors.
But not all that happens in the other realms is, as our 13-year old, Ari, would say, "happy butterfly pony" stuff. There was sorrow. There were misunderstandings. There was even violence. But these were mostly responded to quickly with fine, sincere apologies and many displays of good intention and acts of service. Some people there did act in some small-minded ways. But the expansiveness one feels in those worlds every day, not just on shabbat, made it easier for people to yinafash, to re-expand, when the small-mindedness was pointed out to them. And people still became sick; some died. Their loved ones cared for them with kindness; mourners were embraced by community and given some extra slack and compassion and casseroles, and that part reminded me very much of my experience of this world.
And with that thought, I came back into my body, and realized that even if there was more my Shabbat Soul could tell me, I really needed to change clothes for shul, grab a bite, and make sure the chairs were all placed right. But it's okay; I got plenty of her other-worldly vision; enough to hold me and to move me well through next Friday.