Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeitzei

I spent the first part of this week with a crew from Monmouth Reform Temple in South Carolina helping a church and some families recover from Hurricane Florence. The devastation was horrific. The areas in which we worked are forgotten areas. Over the course of several hurricanes that caused torrential river flooding, people lost everything. F.E.M.A. came last time (Hurricane Matthew). For most families, they are not coming again, and insurance is non-existent. As construction of a new Interstate highway linking the inland to Myrtle Beach looms, small-town officials and conspiring developers create obstacles to people staying and rebuilding. When lands become vacant, people snatch them up, fix the problems and make tons of money, while leaving the previous owners with nothing.

More and more, we experience abuse and dysfunction in organizational and governmental life when we forget that the people matter most. Nationally, this government is supposed to be of the people and by the people. In any competent organization, the client population dictates the orientation and direction it must travel. Where a government or organization is out of sync with its population, it fails to offer the services, products, protections, and needs that help people feel the need to continue/grow their participation. As society continues to evolve (and devolve), leadership has to respond in ways that keep it viable. Organizations fold and governments collapse when they remain too out of touch with the people.

At the age of 95, Philosopher/activist Grace Lee Boggs taught, “I think we’re not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural-revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently. Things do not start with governments.” The Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Norman) walked across the United States 6 times. She died on her 7th shore to shore trip. Her take: “I define democracy as control by the people. Insofar as people succeed in solving their problems fairly and efficiently at a grassroots level, they retain control over their lives. Insofar as they delegate their problem solving to a higher authority, they lose control over their lives.” Meaningful information flows up to leadership.

Thousands of years earlier, Torah teaches this very same ethic. This week, Jacob flees from the wrath of his brother whom he cheated out of the birthright blessing from their father. He experiences an epiphany as he dreams of a ladder to heaven. Oddly, he sees the angels going up and then coming down. Commentators get stuck on the fact that they are not bringing messages from God to the people, rather, they bring them from the people to God. Even while we speak of an “All-Knowing” God, perhaps the best part of “All-Knowing,” is in knowing that there are things that one does not know. A strong executive knows that his/her decision making must come from the information brought in from people in the field.

God needs the angels for information on what is needed here on earth. In this text, we find the value of prayer. In those moments when we seek strength and focus, we climb that ladder. If we are focusing on praying (as opposed to mouthing the words and reading the pages) we remove ourselves from our regular focus on the daily grind. We then get to come back down the ladder with a greater sense of purpose and value. Prayer must be intentional, and when done with focus, it provides the grassroots connection with the needs of the family and community that helps us understand how heal the world.

We will never learn of the horrors people face or of their need for help if we rely on getting our news from the “top” down. Governments are not sending us to places in need of relief; people are doing that. People who pay attention to each other’s needs: only in this way can we heal our world. Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Only in listening to and learning with each other can we make sense out of what is, to better inform leadership as to what we need. I pray that we invest some time in our future. Shabbat Shalom!