It has been an interesting two days, chaverim. What with all the hubbub and brouhaha-ha-ha about the change of the year, the new century, the coming new millennium in a year's time, life still goes on, often with a vengeance.
On Xmas day this year, my local paper, the Nashville Tennessean, chose to publish a front page article entitled "If Jesus Had Never Been Born." The article proceeded to ascribe to the birth of Jesus and subsequent development of Xtianity almost all the positive historical happenings of the last 2000 years. Toward the end it gave a head nod to the fact that not all was peaches and cream, but, by and large, it presented the viewpoint that Xtianity was responsible for just about everything good that ever happened. I, along with others, could not resist writing to the paper to express our feelings about this "front-page" news. My comments, (which highlighted the more nefarious side of Xtian history, and wondered if they would still have happened "had Jesus never been born") were not printed, but similar sentiments were, during this past week.
I opened my copy of the Nashville Tennessean on Friday, December 31, 1999, and, after scanning the headlines and reading the comics (which I always read first) I turned to the Op-Ed page. I started to read this eloquent letter which took the paper and the article in question to task. The first three words of the letter were, "As a Christian..." Imagine my surprise when I reached the end of the letter to find my own name and address listed as the writer!
Sloppy journalism aside, to see the words, "As a Christian" associated with my own name was rather jarring to say the least, and quite distressing and upsetting. It would not be unfair to say I was fuming. The paper was immediately contacted of course, to be informed of the error, but also to be informed of the gross enormity that I, a well-known and active member of the Jewish community, had been associated with the words "As a Christian."
Needless to say, I over-reacted. Perhaps being a Jewish student at a nominally Xtian divinity school has over-sensitized me. I have been constantly explaining, to friends and strangers, both Jewish and not, for two years, why I have chosen to study at Vanderbilt. Part of me wondered how many might think, "Aha, he was a messianic all along," or, "I knew those folks at Vanderbilt would get to him eventually." Foolish thoughts, in hindsight, but real at the time.
I wrote a few friends to get some advice and to vent a bit. Most of the advice was a solid "Don't worry, anybody who knows you would know you are not a Xtian. Relax." In time, I did calm down and my fears subsided. I went to services that evening and endured a few cute comments, but that was about the worst.
The other part of my fear was that the letter attributed to me was so eloquently written. The one I had actually written was quite a bit briefer and perhaps more sarcastic in tone. And I also felt badly that whoever had written that letter had not received due credit for his/her words.
The paper had promised a correction and, indeed, in today's paper (Saturday, January 1, 2000) there was a simple note about the misattribution, and both my letter and the other letter were printed with correct attribution. It wasn't quite all I had expected, as the issue of my not being a Xtian was not addressed, and it remains to be seen whether it can or will be in an appropriate manner to clear up any erroneous impression that thousands of the paper's readers may still have.
Of course, all this has been on my mind all during Shabbat. And around and around in my head I wondered how this connected to the parashat ha shavua, Sh'mot.
Well, in some ways, the eloquency of the other writer's letter made me feel a bit like Moses, feeling somewhat less qualified for the job of spokesperson for anyone, let alone Gd.
And wondering, like Moses, "Why me, Gd?" Can this be just coincidence? What cosmic irony that I, an active and reasonably well-known member of the Jewish community should have a letter attributed to him that starts, "As a Christian..." What kind of test is this? Totally random screw up, or, like Joseph's story, part of some Divine plan?
The original article I had written to criticize was one which surely contributed to my feeling like a "stranger in a foreign land." It IS different down South. The predominant Xtian culture is much more predominant here than other places I have lived and worked. Everything is a "good Xtian this" or a "good Xtian that."
The paper had not addressed the issue of my religion. Do I accept their correction as is, and not pursue the question further? But if I do so, am I being like an oppressed Israelite in Egypt? But, if I act, and act in haste, and strike quickly, as Moshe did, might I not pay the same price?
How can I know what Gd wishes me to do? I cannot ask to be as honored as Moshe, and hear directly from the source.
A simple mistake. Forget it and move on. The easy thing to do. The best thing to do. But there is a pattern here that is troubling. And I cannot ignore it.
As I pondered all these questions, as I pondered the meaning of what happened to me at the end of one century and the very beginning of the next, the words of the prophet Isaiah kept haunting me:
Tvaz latzav; tzav latzav.
The world is going crazy. Has gone crazy. Major newspapers and the media routinely make stupid mistakes, and we are simply asked to accept an "oops" and move on. The newspaper said this has been happening a lot lately. Online companies guarantee deliveries and then simply say "sorry." Our food comes cold, or the fast food restaurant or pizza delivery gets our order wrong. If we complain, we often get ill-treated, and at most, we usually just get an "oops" or "sorry" anyway. Is this what our society has come to? What matters anymore? Does getting it right count? Does anyone hear Gd's message anymore? Or, is it, as Isaiah illustrates in the haftarah for Sh'mot, as if the world is not receptive to Gd's message of what is right:
"To whom would he give instruction? To whom expound a message? To those newly weaned from milk, just taken away from the breast?
That same mutter upon mutter, murmur upon murmur, now here, now there.
Truly, as one who speaks to that people in a stammering jargon and an alien tongue
is he who declares to them:
"This is the resting place, let the weary rest; this is the place of repose.' They refuse to listen.
To them the word of the Lrd is: 'Mutter upon mutter,
murmur upon murmur, now here, now there." (JPS, Isaiah 28:9-11.)
In our world, it has become:
oops upon oops, sorry upon sorry, now here, now there, now everywhere.
Random thoughts all. No answers, perhaps, but many questions. This educational opportunity for me is not ended. I am sure there is yet more to be learned from this ironic, and perhaps Divinely engineered event. If I pursue the course of what is right, will Gd stiffen Pharaoh's heart so that only at the proper time will things happen as they are meant to?
Is there a subtle warning here for me? As Moshe was perhaps warned in the incident of the "bridegroom of blood" maybe my house in not all in order with Gd quite yet and before I proceed on my life's course, I need an appropriate "circumcision" to set things aright? After all, the letter did begin, "As a Christian..." Is Gd telling me I'm not totally where I need to be Jewishly, before I can be sent onward to do my part in our covenant with Gd?
For me, for all of us, for our entire world, the increasing din of "tzav latzav" is drowning out the "still small voice." I think it's high time for all of us to stop murmuring and pay attention to ourselves, to each other, and to the "bat kol."
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
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