“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered (Vayikahel Ha-am) against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man, Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him” (Exodus 32:1)
This is the famous story of the Golden Calf. With their leader, Moses, away from the camp, having climbed the mountain, the people become afraid that their spiritual leader is gone – or perhaps has even died. In this stressed state of high anxiety, they create the Golden Calf. What if this act is not an expression of their desire to worship idols? Perhaps it springs from a deep longing to connect with something greater than themselves – a certain “Truth,” which some may call that which is “d/Divine.”
It has been my experience that this feeling of longing without a resulting sense of connection creates feelings of abandonment which invite anxiety and depression . Such is what seems to be manifesting today. The cause appears to be the deepening of a psycho – socio-economic and belief-based conflict that is polarizing families, communities and our nation resulting in people abandoning one another and literally breaking our hearts and spirits. Unable to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we risk cutting ourselves off from sensing the shared “Truth” that we are all human beings made of the d/Divine.
Some, driven by an ideology akin to Darwin’s survival of the fittest, are emboldened by the belief that their’s is the only way forward for our country. Others are experiencing an existential crisis, shaped by spiritual and social exile, are expressing a growing sense of frustration, fatigue, and isolation. One response to this crisis is to replenish our minds, bodies and souls. This response arises from the belief that all things are interconnected and part of a unified whole. To remove all that distorts love or blocks access to our moral center we turn to the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, according to Ohio State Integrative Medicine, “is paying attention in three particular ways: on purpose, in the moment and without judgment. [One] can practice mindfulness of breathing, eating, bodily sensations (body scan), thoughts, emotions, communication (listening and speaking) and walking or other activities (such as yoga or tai chi). With more practice, [one] can become more mindful throughout the day, not just during formal practice periods.”
Why mindfulness practice? Jon Kabat-Zinn , who focuses on mind/body interactions, teaches that mindfulness helps us heal ourselves and the world. According to Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” And, just as mindfulness addresses inflammatory health, it can also help us address things that inflame society and create conditions that attract disease.
According to Tom Mahony , a biological consultant, “True believers inflame conflict and impede progress in society because they simply can’t be reasoned with. ” Mahony describes “true believers” as being “stuck in a positive feedback loop: the more evidence against their position, the more entrenched they become. No mental mechanism exists to break the loop. They only accept evidence that agrees with their preconceived notions, and, conveniently, insist they’re the sole arbiters of what constitutes “evidence.” There’s a sieve around their brain that screens out troublesome data. Any topic where facts are inconsistent with their beliefs is taboo because it simply can’t be true. Open-minded heretics pursuing such topics will be slandered, ridiculed, and ostracized. ”
Concerning what is actually true, Mahony asserts that “true believers often moralize about the importance of facts and insist they’re the only ones who are ‘reality based.’” They may however, actually confuse facts with facts with assumptions, beliefs, conjecture, and opinion. When an incorrect assumption is taken as fact anything extrapolated from that assumption – no matter how “logical” it may sound – is wrong because the foundational assumption is wrong. Mahony further suggests that “[t]rue believers haunt any subject: science, religion, health, history, economics, politics.” They do not feel restricted by any particular “political affiliation, ideology, culture, gender, age, metaphysical belief system, or education level.”
Who, then, according to Mahony, is able to rebuff the true believers? The open-minded skeptics who, with real facts on their side, lead by example and live honestly and compassionately. Joining together in this way, he encourages us to believe that truth eventually prevails.
In the Golden Calf story as today, we are vulnerable to the fear of being abandoned by our leaders – political and spiritual. We, too, long for meaningful relationships which elevate our lives because they connected us to a vibrant, supporting whole that is greater than its parts. Secure in a shared mutuality of caring and responsibility, we can mindfully develop our ability to draw closer to one another instead of inflaming and abandoning one another out of our insecurities. Not as “true believers,” but as believers in truth, we can invite inclusivity, allow for diversity, advocate for connection over disconnection, pursue acceptance over judgment, and manifest love to overcome baseless hatred. This is the most concrete evidence that the d/Divine dwells here on earth.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
Parashat Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5777