Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Jewish People

by James Ponet

Tikkun olam may be compared to an ongoing process of editing, revising, and correcting that can and will at times stall into stunned stasis or meander into depressed paralysis. Those times are useful, for they may serve as seasons of sowing new visions, new pathways. Be not afraid of stops (read: Sabbaths), for tikkun carries within it an ineluctable energy that will never surrender to the text of the world as it currently reads.

I suggest to future generations of tikkunistas: keep your eye on the Jewish people. For how you perceive amcha yisrael (your people Israel) will shape your way of doing the work of tikkun. The Jewish people is both world-weary and world-loving, contains within it racists and humanists, Jews by birth and by choice, converted and unconverted, secularists and fundamentalists, first-language Jews and third-language Jews, Jews by marriage, by thought, by inclination, and even Jews by hate who valorize violence against demonic enemies (God help them), those who flee Jewish destiny, and those who embrace it as privilege, and so on and on. For to be Jewish is to be human.

Through one lens I see two simultaneous visions of the Jewish people: 1) the archetype that the mystics call Knesset Yisrael, God's eternal dialogical partner and 2) the historical ethnos that knows itself suspended between total genocide and utopian political fulfillment.

Through this lens Jews are legitimately defensive, conservative, and self-protective, and Jews are legitimately radical, self-forgetful, and messianic. Rabbi Akiva modeled both of these postures. While the commitment to love does not require pacifistic acquiescence and may in fact entail going to war, the Akivan warrior sees zero virtue in hating. Because he or she knows that "love is as bold as death," (Song of Songs 8:6, the book Akiva deemed the holiest) he or she can laugh and love and take risks in the ever-mutating here and now.

Rabbi James Ponet is Yale's Jewish chaplain and heads the university's Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.

Source Citation: Ponet, James. 2011. Keep Your Eye on the Jewish People. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.


tags: Judaism  
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