Monday night, Rabbi Marcia Prager led Philadelphia P'nai Or ("Faces of Light") in a powerful observance of the beginning of Tisha B'Av -- the midsummer mourning that began in the burning, scorching heat of mid-summer Middle East and that traditionally was focused on the burning of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem.
In addition to the classic mourning chant of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, Reb Marcia brought us the dirge of Karaite Jews, with its refrain: "We sit alone and weep."
She invited me to make the transition from "We sit alone ..." to "We sit together ..." That is, we are transforming Judaism to mourn not alone, a people mourning only its own disasters -- but a people that mourns along with other communities grieving their own disasters -- and mourning those disasters that afflict us all.
This Tisha B'Av was especially poignant.
For we weep and fast this year together with more than a billion Muslims, who are fasting in this month of Ramadan. Some Muslims are fasting in sorrow for thousands killed by civil war in Syria and hundreds killed by incipient civil war in Egypt, for hundreds of children killed by U.S. drones, for tens of thousands killed and millions driven from their homes by the U.S. war against Iraq. Other Muslims -- millions of them -- are fasting to turn themselves away from pointless materialist obsessions and toward the spiritual life called forth by the best of the Quran.
We weep and fast this year together with more than a hundred prisoners in Guantanamo, on hunger strike to protest their being held for years illegally and immorally by the U.S. government. These are prisoners whom the U.S. has acknowledged were never guilty of any terrorism, any violence, any crime -- but whom the US government will not release. Indeed, the U.S. has responded to the hunger strike with forced feeding, which almost all witnesses say is itself torture.
We weep and fast this year together with more than 12,000 American prisoners in California, on hunger strike because they are subjected to overcrowding so abominable that federal courts have ruled it is "cruel and unusual punishment" forbidden by the Constitution. But the Governor has ignored court orders -- has even refused to release prisoners held in cells already infected by deadly "valley fever." Among the grievances the California thousands are protesting is the use of solitary confinement that for some prisoners has been imposed for decades. Decades!
We weep and fast this year together with millions starving all around the world, in famines created by the droughts created by the global scorching caused by addiction to burning fossil fuels. An addiction carried like a triumphant banner by Americans who per capita are far the worst at scorching our shared planet, and whose government refuses to take action to lay a cost upon the Drug Lords of Big Carbon that profit from addiction.
We weep and fast this year together with tens of thousands of American children who will suffer hunger because their parents have been robbed of their jobs by rapacious corporations, and because their Congress is hell-bent on cancelling food stamps while increasing subsidies to wealthy farmland owners. (And I do mean Hell-bent.)
Monday night the mourners in our circle said, each as the Spirit moved us, a line of truth and then another and another, of what we bewail and weep together.
How can we heal these lethal wounds upon Humanity and the Earth our Mother?
Our tears must themselves must become the waters of our healing.
Monday night it came to me that the tears of 400 years of slaves oppressed in ancient Egypt became the waters of the Red Red Sea, washing away the system of Pharaoh's violent oppression.
It was only when those slaves poured all their tears together, joined in resistance to their slavery, that their separate tears could flow together into a Sea of rebirth and transformation.
Perhaps the Sea never did become dry land, but like Nachshon who by tradition was the first to venture into those tearful, bloody waters, the entire band of runaway slaves immersed themselves, all near to drowning. Immersed themselves in the waters of rebirth, of womb, of life-originating Ocean.
And came out free to decide what freedom was and is and would be.
Free to experience for the first time Restfulness -- Shabbat -- and to realized that human Restfulness is irrevocably linked to a rhythm of restfulness for Earth.
Free to insist that since no Pharaoh, no Corporation, but only YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the sacred Interbreathing of all life, can truthfully be said to "own" the Earth, all of us must share the abundance of that Earth, that Breath.
When will we pour our tears into the waters of rebirthing, a Sea of transformation?
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