The Bittersweet

All week I have been wrapped in a warm cocoon. It’s like my soul turned into a snuggie. I feel my insides are flannel – in a good way. I feel warm, soft, hugged, peaceful, more than I have in a long time. After my “aha” moment on Sunday (which you can read about here) when I realized I need to recognize my emotional, spiritual side more – and bring it into my work around community & civic engagement, and perhaps trade in consulting for coaching – I have spent the week in a different headspace. I’ve been reading about intuition; I had a Reiki session yesterday; I went to a guided meditation at 7:30 this morning at the local Buddhist center; I have let my curiosity loose, and unapologetically tried a number of these things I have long wondered about, but felt too shy or embarassed to try.

I have been thinking and speaking from a different place, and the response in others has been noticeable to me. I’ve had strangers approach me more; friends have leaned their head on my shoulder and hugged me more; invitations to dinner have been pouring in. It’s interesting what a shift in perspective can do for one’s social life.

So when I sat down to read this week’s  parsha portion to do a Dvar Torah post for today, I was expecting the good vibes to go on – especially since Martin Luther King Jr day is nigh, and all the world’s aflutter with messages of compassion and contribution, as our National Day of Service draws nearer.

Instead, I was greeted by a passage I found so repugnant, I could barely finish it. In this week’s parsha, Moses twists Pharoah’s arm – with the help of a thug-like God – to get the people of Israel freed. He unleashes locusts; darkness; and then moves on to the totally revolting part of killing everyone’s firstborn. The genocide of slave babies, animal babies, royal babies – babies in the thousands – was totally disgusting to me, and makes me think “How can people believe in a God that resorts to this? Aren’t those babies – human and animal – souls as well, children of God? How can he be so quick to massacre these innocent babies to make a point?” I personally don’t believe in a God who has agency and can do things, but it’s passages like this that make me wonder how people who do can worship and love a God like this. It’s something I would love to hear about from a friend who does possess such a belief, but like so many other topics I’ve written about over the last few months – money, environmentalism, gender, politics – I don’t find it’s something discussed much, and comfortably, in my little world.

Anyway, equally icky to me is the schmearing of blood on the doorposts to show whose babies shouldn’t be murdered, as all the homes of Israel are marked with the war paint of lamb carcasses. Aside from not loving the thought of eviscerating lambs and rubbing their guts on wood beams, I also hated this part because it was the pinnacle of a theme in this passage that really rubs me the wrong way – the division of people. I know that part of Jewish identity is largely bound up in the idea of being a Chosen People, but I also kind of hate that idea, and the evidence of it here turned my stomach. How can we be a people who seek to repair brokenness in the world, if we also seek to be divisive? How can we glue the pieces together if we also want to wrench the slivers of humanity apart? How can we wipe our brows and say “phew! dodged a bullet there, let’s celebrate being passed over!” when the bullet we dodged ended up murdering someone else’s baby? There seems to me here something so hypocritical, unloving, and against the things I love about Judaism – its dedication to service, its humanism, its ethical treatment of nature and animals.

In short – barf.

Just as I was thinking “what can I learn from this? I hate it too much,” I paused. No use hating something for being black & white if you’re going to be so yourself. So, I opened myself up to finding some nuance in this parsha.

Perhaps what they did was horrible. Then again, I thought, this was what it took to get out of slavery. Is it disgusting, and sad, and miserable, and undesirable? Yes. Would it have been better to not ravage the land with locusts, murder babies, and leave your home of 400 years in such a rush that you can’t even pack a snack? Well, yes. But are all of these things preferable to slavery? I suppose they are. Desperate times call for desperate measures – and how am I to know/who am I to judge how terrible it is to be a slave, and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not it was worth it?

This morning, as I was walking to that guided meditation class (which was awesome by the way) I had a song stuck in my head. This happens to me pretty much whenever I’m not talking, or listening to music, but sometimes it is SO LOUD that I can barely think straight. This was one of those times – like somebody was blaring car speakers  inside my ears. And what was the song? As usual, it was a random gem from the early nineties – this time, 1993, by Big Head Todd & The Monsters ( could a more ’90’s band name exist? Sigh.)

Well I didn’t know why I had that song in my head out of nowhere, but as I recall the lyrics, it actually seems rather germane to this week’s parsha:

A little light looks through her bedroom window.
She dances and I dream, she’s not so far as she seems,
Of brighter meadows, melting sunsets,
Her hair blowing in the breeze.
And she can’t see me watching.
And I’m thinking love

It’s bittersweet more sweet than bitter,
Bitter than sweet,.
It’s a bittersweet surrender.

I’m older now.
I work in the city.
We live together.
But it’s different from my dream.
Morning light fills the room.
I rise.
She pretends she’s sleeping.
Are we everything we wanted?
And I’m thinking love

It’s bittersweet more sweet than bitter,
Bitter than sweet,.
It’s a bittersweet surrender.

I know we don’t talk about it.
We don’t tell each other
All the little things that we need.
We work our way around each other
As we tremble and we bleed

Perhaps you wish for something – freedom, the girl of your dreams – and it’s so close it drives you mad. Finally, you get it. And in getting it, things are a little less magical than you had imagined. Maybe you’re drifting apart from your partner as work gets stressful; or maybe you have to sacrifice thousands of babies and flee from your home of four centuries into the desert with a stolen silver samovar and some uncooked dough. Tomato, tom-ah-to. Reality is less magical than fantasy. The means to the end are tougher and uglier than you had anticipated. The sweetness of your hopes is a bit more bitter once it’s really in your mouth, and not just your imagination.

But even if it’s more bitter than sweet, isn’t that still sweeter than the bitterness of never trying – or having – it at all?

Are there other ideas or lessons you see in here that I may be missing? I would love to hear them – as well as any thoughts you have on my questions about God in the above rant.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!


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