I was present once, when a teacher told a full room, “In the years ahead, we will be called to be both the hospice caretakers of the old world, the old structures, and midwives of the new one.” It has stuck with me deeply ever since, as I’ve attuned my senses to a crossfade of sorts, watching the volume of an old way being turned down as the volume of a new song increases.
With Passover just a few short days away, perhaps we could think of this crossfade like the mythic Israelites leaving Egypt, escaping the cacophony of slavery while cranking up the volume on liberation. At the crux of that crossfade is the 10th plague, when God vows to kill all Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 12:12). This of course, leads directly to the Israelite exodus across the sea. But this is not the whole story. In that same breath, God also promises to bring judgment on the false gods of Egypt (12:12). According to the midrash (Exodus Rabbah 16:3), the true and lasting liberation comes not only from the physical leaving of Egypt, but from the Israelites’ emphatic refusal to worship the idols of Egyptian rule. Yes, freedom is physical. The Israelites had to leave Egypt to be free. But freedom is also a mentality, a liberatory worldview. So it wasn’t until the Israelites left Egypt and shirked off the slave mentality that true freedom was achieved.
We are in a parallel moment of mentality shift right now. In just a few short days, Covid-19 has shut down our systems and thrown our various social structures into near total collapse. And in so doing, it has exposed the cavernous cracks of inequity and vulnerability that run deep within our own soil. This pandemic has shined a sharp and unmistakable light onto the tragic and violent impact of worshipping our culture’s false idols.
So our response to Covid-19 must be swift and must unequivocally prioritize the physical and material needs of those most vulnerable right now. That is why, as Hazon Detroit, we’ve focused our attention over the last few weeks on supporting the Metro Detroit Jewish community in growing fresh produce to donate to those in need, through our Relief Garen Initiative. And that is why we’ve been hustling all around the state to rescue food and deliver it to barren pantry shelves, or directly to hungry households. Because people are hurting and we see it as our Jewish and human duty to care for our neighbors’ material welfare.
But our response can’t end there. Because what is required now is also a mentality shift. A spiritually rooted transformation in the way we prioritize people and services and support in this society. A radical call to put sustainability environmental, economic, and social/cultural before profit. A society-wide commitment to living lighter on this planet, to living in more right relationship with each other and the earth, a shift to a new song. Because for many, life has qualified as “crisis” since birth, and because for all of us, we are decades into a global climate crisis that almost certainly will outpace this current pandemic in severity and scope by any number of scales. For us to come out the other side of this larger existential crossfade, it will require that we soften our hearts enough to emphatically, collectively, and resolutely execute judgment on the futile false gods that plague this society and embrace a new way of being human, a new way of building society, a new way of being a neighbor. In more ways than one, it is time to grow. Because nothing less will do.
And as that old song fades, we will continue to amplify and turn up and sing along to the fierce and powerful and sweetly sung songs of liberation. With prophetic lyrics of collective sustainability, humility, compassion, empathic caring, and mutual support rising from all corners. We will learn what it means to really take care of one another, what we’re really capable of, and what’s really demanded of us by being alive in just this moment. And then, together, with that song on our tongues, we will help midwife the future that we know is already on its way.
In loving community,
Rabbi Nate, Wren, Marla, Brittany, and Hannah