Saturday, March 8, 2014

Vayikra, Snow Days and Being Called

Another week, another snow day. I was reading one of my favorite journalists, Dahlia Lithwick, who wrote a fabulous ode to the chaos of our times called “Goodnight Snow Days”, based on Goodnight Moon.

In the great green room There was a telephone That came with the news, that school was closed Again.And a red balloon, over my head, that said: “Good night job.”Yes, that’s your mommy, jumping over the moon Trying again to entertain you because the cow said there’s been too much screen time And mommy can’t do one more experiment with vinegar.See that quiet old lady whispering, “Hush”?Five months ago she was young and beautifulAnd you called her “Mommy.”Good night nobody. Good night mush.Good night to the old lady whispering, "I just need five minutes, OK?"Good night stars. Good night air.Good night snow days, everywhere.

Ah, the snow day. That’s how I got to begin this week. Again.

Snow days often remind me of how stressful I find parenting. And boy, do I find it stressful. Even when I’m enjoying the moment, I’m worrying about the next thing.

I was talking about this with some fellow parents, and I stopped myself. Here’s a couple that has three children. Their oldest has health issues, and has since birth. And they take it all in stride. And for a while I thought it was because they simply had better intestinal fortitude than me. But they talked about how they really work at it, and then the mom said something that blew me away. She said, there’s a reason her son, her eldest, came into their lives. She honestly felt that she was meant to parent this child, and this child was meant to be parented by her.

The way she talked reminded me of how I talk about why I do what I do—that sense of being called. I was meant to do this, created to do this, just as she was meant to do what she does. Because she was, because I am called.

Truth is, we’re all called. That’s how this week’s portion, the first portion of Leviticus, begins. Vayikra, God called. God calls us. Why? To create holiness. To be partners in the Divine act of Creation. To make a more ordered, more perfect, more just and loving world. God calls, and we must answer the call. But interestingly, the word itself is defective. The aleph on the end of the word vayikra is written small, almost as if it’s a child who ran out of room. Why is it smaller?
Some argue that it’s a sign of Moses’ humility. What hubris to say that God calls us! That it is somehow purposeful, rather than accidental. So he writes the aleph smaller, as a reminder of our place in the grand scheme of things. But I think there’s something else going on.

Vayikra, God calls. God calls us every time we look at another human being who needs us. Not someone else, not some generic idea of support or encouragement, but US. God calls us when we see injustice, and there is much injustice. God calls us when our heart tells us to react with fear rather than love, but we know—we KNOW—it’s the wrong reaction. God calls us when the question is hard, and the answer harder. God calls us. 

But we know our answer is imperfect. God calls us and we respond…and our response is lacking, wanting, insufficient. We let people down—heck, we let ourselves down. We work tirelessly, endlessly at our task and never seem to get anywhere. We get frustrated with others who don’t respond the way we think they should, the way we want them to. Where’s the gratitude? Where’s the change in lifestyle and behavior when we call people’s attention to their issues? God calls and we respond, and our response too often is poor. At the very least, it requires work. Nothing is effortless. When I studied the Irish poet Yeats, I found that each whimsical, lyrical poem was first written in prose, hammered out word by word, verse by verse. There was very little whimsy or lyric left to chance. So it is with us. Whether it’s sustaining the poor, or helping people find meaning in their lives, advocating for Israel, or an end to gun violence, or full equality for all, or keeping our children from growing up to be sociopaths (or for the love of God to stop singing the Everything is Awesome song twenty thousand times in a row), it doesn’t just happen. God may speak and the world comes to be, but we need to devote energy, attention, intention—the kavannah of ourselves.

That’s why the aleph in vayikra is diminished. God calls, and we try our best, but we never quite get it right, do we? And yet, God calls. On purpose. With intent. There is no accident, no incidental nature to why we are here. God calls and we must still answer the call to the best of our abilities. It’s up to us to make that aleph full-sized. But only, only if we answer the call. 

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