Wanting To Get It Right For Pride
Growing up in a secular Jewish home in Richmond, Virginia, I was 14 and in Hebrew school when I first encountered Theodor Herzl's teaching, “If you will it, it is not a dream.” It blew my mind. What does that mean? There are so many things that I want that aren’t realistic. I decided to test it out. I approached a girl I liked and said, “Catherine, I really want to go out with you.” Her rejection came without hesitation: “Mike, you’re dreaming.” So began my complicated journey with Zionism, and women.
I was shocked to find out, years later when I made it to yeshiva, that Herzl’s teaching actually has its source in the Rabbinic tradition. The Chida (18th century Jerusalem) wrote “nothing stands in front of a person’s will” and the Talmud testifies “whichever way a person wants to go they take him.”
The Rabbis point out the difficulty with such a theology; how can this concept obtain when we have the competing truth of: אונס רחמנא פטריה -onus rachmana patrie (the Torah exempts a person when things are beyond one's control). If I find myself in a forced circumstance that is no fault of my own, why isn’t it just an indicator that I didn’t want it badly enough?
They share a beautiful insight from the story of creation about God’s process of negotiating competing interests that provides a fascinating and comforting outlook at the intersection of LGBT and Israeli complexities. The medieval exegete Rashi writes on the opening verse in the Bible: “At first, [God] thought to create [this world] through the strict Attribute of Judgment, but saw that it wouldn’t be sustainable, so God gave precedence to the Attribute of Mercy and joined it to the Attribute of Strict Judgment.” In other words, God’s compassion and mercy are prerequisites for us to coexist with God, because we all struggle and make mistakes.
The Sefas Emes explains that in the world of “thought” - what a person wants - the strict attribute of judgment still obtains. How can we defend wanting to be unhealthy, insensitive, or ungrateful? However, in the world of action, there is no shortage of reasons why we fall short of actualizing the ideal; all you can eat buffets, not getting enough sleep, and life’s distractions. So God provides compassion and mercy when we want to get it right, but haven’t yet figured out how.
This is what the Chida means that nothing stands in the way of a person's desire; there are no excuses and there is no one to blame - we have visions and aspirations for ourselves and we are solely responsible for them. In that space, Herzl agrees, if we will it, it is not a dream.
It seems that the compassion, forgiveness, and mercy come only once those first givens of good intentions are established. Perhaps a way to narrow the space between folks, who find coexistence with an other that seems dangerous to be a struggle and threatening, is by first recognizing the shared desire of wanting to live in peace while still holding all of our identities and shortcomings.
Tradition teaches in the context of God’s vision of creating this world, סוף מַעֲשה בְּמַחֲשבָה תְּחִלָּה - sof ma’aseh b’machshavah techilah, what would be enacted in the end, started first as thought. What would become Saturday evening, the beginning of the time of separation - havdalah - was exactly the moment of the Divine thought of creation and the beginning of the unification of all that was destined to exist.
The dream of coming together, as individuals and as humanity, was the beginning of God’s process towards peace and wholeness. How might our process of inclusivity and expansive tolerance be advanced if we refocused on shared goals and hopes?
This month of pride, coming at a time of such violence and divisiveness, compels us to reaffirm that what we see today is not God’s will. This is not God’s dream - nor is it any of ours. With all of the pain and suffering in Israel, and in America, no one is living the dream.
I was proud that I took a chance with Catherine, and compassionate with myself when it didn’t work out. It wasn’t the last time I was told to “keep dreaming” and I have followed that wise advice. We need to celebrate, with pride, our desire to get it right by loving compassionately those who think that we have gotten it wrong.