Did you know that contrary to popular superstition, Friday the 13th is a lucky day for Jews? Did you ever wonder why this day was demonized? There are many complicated reasons for this… many of which can be traced back to antisemitism, colonization and misogyny (for more on this: read this and here). It is a complicated story that needs more than a blog to unpack, but we will begin to reflect upon some of the lessons learned tonight at services for those of you who would like to join us virtually.
The notion of not only the number 13 but also Friday being unlucky is related to similar roots, with the word Friday being the only day of the week that can be traced back- not only to the Jews, but also to the goddesses Frig and Venus. Jesus is thought to have been killed on Friday, which was a way of supplanting the Jewish practice of rest with a new vision for Sabbath.
The concept of rest remains deeply subversive to our contemporary understanding of what gives humans value, which is productivity. This concept is deeply flawed and tied to multiple intersectional social and economic policies that are leading more and more of us to burnout, exhaustion, crisis and addiction. A Jewish reflection on this dynamic would consider that this resistance to rest and time for spiritual reflection is a form of idolatry. An excerpt of a recent and beautiful manifesto on the counter-cultural practice of rest can be found here.
Fundamentally, the notion of queering is redeeming, which is central to being “other” which -regardless of the label- has always been interpreted as a threat by those in power. Of course, the reason for this is simple- being “other” allows for critical thinking, which itself represents the potential for challenging authority. Those who have power and authority, are always at risk of losing it, because True Power is greater than any one of us can ever have.
From a Jewish perspective, the belief that anything in this world has True Power is the beginning of the risk of idolatry… the closest that we can come to an understanding of That Which Defies Names is the coming together of our own imperfect thoughts and reflections…
But many religious traditions and political systems have veered off-track from their own teachings and instead begun to worship things of this world- like human translations of Revelation… literal words, often translated from other languages that are less well known, and applied to different contexts, with the purpose of labeling some people as “other” or “wrong”.
Dr. Michael Yellowbird speaks about the importance of neurodecolonization as a means of reclaiming our own truths that can point us back to Truth and away from what culture and authority have sought to name as such. His writing reflects on the ways in which rest, mindfulness and meditation can help us to decolonize our brains, which is another way of saying, help us let go of oppressive ways of thinking.
Tonight, the Jewish community will begin Shabbat thinking about the story of Shemot, which is the beginning of the book of Exodus and traces the story of the Children of Israel who left ancient Egyptian bondage but had to wander for forty years in the desert before they were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rabbis explain that this was because -while they left the physical land that is Egypt they needed another 40 years for the imprint of Ancient Egyptian bondage to be unlearned from their psyche.
This is an ancient Jewish understanding of the concept of neurodecolonization- the ways in which the unexamined and unhealed life runs the risk of repeating patterns for future generations. Furthermore, it is also important to note that most rabbis recognize that this story is not about actual geography, but rather symbolic, and any attempt to render the bible historic is a slippery slope that can lead to literal readings that can lead to idolatry. The word for Egypt itself is “mitzrayim” which represents any narrow place of stress and oppression.
Contemporary theory posits the ways in which neurodivergence, trauma and unresolved grief can lead to provide mental, emotional and spiritual distress. Rather than label as “other”, pathologize and label someone as “mentally unwell”, true liberation and redemption comes when we recognize that we are ALL different, and that it is in our differences coming together, like puzzle pieces, that we will begin to have a more comprehensive understanding of that which is beyond our brain’s limitations. Faith is about trusting that beyond what we can understand rationally, there is a Connecting Force which some of us may choose to call G!d or Spirit. Connecting with a Power Greater than Ourselves is often the first step to helping us navigate that which, left to our own devices, would be overwhelming.
For Jews, the Torah (Pentateuch) ends with Deuteronomy, with the death of Moses in Deuteronomy, because it is up to each of us to figure out how we enter our own promised lands… This again is a topic for another blog, but reflects the ways in which unhealed grief and trauma (like that over Moses, or over the intergenerational impact of the trauma of Mitzrayim) might in fact have continued to play itself out in biblical history and to this very day.
All this to say… Rest is vitally important. It is a form of resistance to dominant ways of thinking that can lead us further away from what matters. The word “shabbat” in Hebrew means “stop”. Stopping regularly to reconnect with s/Spirit can help us find freedom and liberation from the oppression of this world. Come start 2023 off on the right foot! Make self-care part of your wellness plan! Shabbat is a way to ensure that we dedicate time to restoring ourselves: body, mind, heart and soul…
Join the Reform Jewish Community of Atlantic Canada in a special, inclusive and virtual Sabbath worship service. 6PM Atlantic/6:30 PM NFLD/5PM Eastern…. Register for the Zoom link: https://urj.tfaforms.net/980
After a long week (or longer), promise yourself that you will be at least as kind to yourself as you are to your electronics… recharge… do what brings you joy and helps you create space for what matters in the midst of your busy life and hectic schedule..