When we first asked Rabbi Gendler to write a blog-post for the Gendler Grapevine website, we had a few hurdles to jump – the first being to explain what a blog is! I hope you’ll enjoy the reflection below as much as I did.
The Gendler Grapevine Project
Dear Board Members of the Gendler Grapevine,
Thanks for asking me for three or four paragraphs for the Gendler Grapevine website as we approach Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe that are the New Year. Gendler Grapevine seems to me an especially appropriate context for this reflection for several reasons.
First of all, what freshness and what renewal you have devised! Our precious planet surely breathes a bit more easily with the infusion of spiritual-societal oxygen that you’ve contributed. Usually as I look forward to a New Year filled with possibilities of fresh discoveries, new challenges, and innovative ways to meet them, I experience also a lingering fear: perhaps we’ll just repeat the old patterns, live out the old habits, and experience the treadmill of routine repetition. Somehow we hit the reset button rather than slow-but-steady forward. No such specter stalks my imagination this Rosh Hashanah. With the Gendler Grapevine now launched, ten genuinely innovative camp projects already supported, and fresh ideas jousting for your next deft implementation, dull repetition hasn’t a chance.
Beyond this, the contemplation of the project does, in truth, inspire a kind of awe, of respect, of reverence for the tzelem elohim, the Divine Image within each of us, as it expresses its benign, life-enhancing power through your inspired initiative and its exemplary execution. Sometimes I’m discouraged, even dubious about God’s wager on us humans as primary partners in preserving, renewing, and advancing daily the works of Creation. Despite His/Her incomparable capacities, the Midrash speculates that there were earlier Divine initiatives with Creation that failed and had to be terminated. Will betting on us reveal the Cosmic Gambler as once again a Loser? The Midrash does speculate about this possibility, then concludes that the outcome of this earthly experiment is in our hands. The variety of creative, supportive responses to the Gendler Grapevine strengthens my hope that this time the Divine wager may, indeed, be a winner.
The above is reaffirmed for me as I look skyward and observe the phase of the moon. Unlike the celebrative and brightly lit Full Moon Festivals of Sukkot, Purim, and Pesach, Rosh Hashanah occurs at the Dark of the Moon, on Rosh Hodesh/New Moon. The gift of this darkness, suggests the Gerer Rebbe, is the rediscovery of our Inner Light: “within the heart…a point directly connected with the Divine…It is important for a person to know inwardly that of the Divine within the self….Hence, ‘Sound the shofar at the new moon, ba-ke-se/when the moon is hidden’ (Psalm 81:4).”
This sense of the Divine Within has the danger of contributing to self-inflation and smug serenity. On the other hand, when we see so much in our world that diminishes our human self-respect, a healthy sense of the Divine Within may be essential to our salvation. Unrealistic illusions about how good we are may endanger us; erroneous convictions about how bad we are will destroy us. Not from despair but rather from chastened hope may redemption approach.
This renewed sense of our tzelem elohim, our Divine image (Genesis 1:27),establishes our common ground with the Quaker “that of God in every person,” with the Hindu identification of Atman with Brahman, the Buddhist proclamation of the Buddha-nature, the Taoist discernment of the uncarved block, etc. The Gendler Grapevine that you have planted, by making visible and manifest the Divine Within, is not only a gift that keeps giving but an affirmation that keeps affirming. What a contribution to a shanah tovah um’tukah, to a truly good and sweet New Year!