Blessed are You, YHWH, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, Who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment!
The Torah portion that Jews read this coming Shabbat begins: "YHWH [Yahh, the Breath of Life] said to Abram [and his wife Sarai], "Go forth, go forward, into your best and deepest self - to a place that I will let you see, that you do not yet know." (Gen 12: 1)
God said that to America yesterday.
The seeming paradox -- that we can go into our deepest selves only by going beyond ourselves -- is given even more point and pungency by the Hebrew: "Lekh l'kha," says God. In a Hebrew where the vowels must be inserted, these two words have the same consonants. They are the very same word, written twice. The closest I've ever come to an adequate translation is:
And that is America today. We have taken only the bare first step on that unknown path to an unknown place, the path of hope and change. But that path is the only way to uncover, discover, our truest self. (Please see below for specific next steps on our journey.)
Everywhere, our media are saying this truth in regard to racism in America. The souls of Black folk, weeping and dancing at the same moment, tell us that. And there is more. There were two intertwined energies that brought us to this moment. If Barack Obama had not courageously opposed the Iraq war from the git-go, he would not have brought together the passionate commitment that made the beginning of this journey possible. And if he had not been literally the embodiment of an America - no, a world - beyond racism, he could not have channeled that promise into the Black and white votes that together made yesterday's victory.
Two powerfully symbolic places brought this lesson home for me: places I know in my own soul and body.
In Grant Park -- where 40+ years ago police charged and beat antiwar demonstrators to prevent their marching to meet with the Blacks of Chicago's South Side and together confront the Democratic National Convention to protest the Vietnam war abroad and racism at home --- in Grant Park, more than 100,00 Americans, Black and brown and pink, joined to celebrate the election to the Presidency of an antiwar Black nominee of the Democratic Convention. 1 | 2
And at 14th and U Streets in Washington, the epicenter of the Black uprising of April 5, 1968 (eight blocks from where I lived), the epicenter of rage against the murder of Martin Luther King the day before, rage against the Pharaoh's age-old regime of racism in this country -- at 14th and U Streets, Blacks and whites danced and cried together.
The tears, the dance, of healing.
But as Philip Roth's great novel about Portnoy says in its very last line: "Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?"
Now at last we can begin to walk that path into a decent future. And as Obama said last night, addressing all who worked to make this moment happen:
"This is your victory. I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
"This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you."
And as he added, echoing Dr. King's last speech, given the night before his death, the speech that echoed Moses looking toward the Promised Land and promised that we as a people would get there even if he could not :
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America --- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there."
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