Reason and Emotion for Humanistic Jews, Autumn 1986
V’-SHOOV IT-KHEM Let us be happy together.
Feelings make life worthwhile. Without needs and desires, there would be no purpose to living, no goals to strive for. Without needs and desires, there would be no meaning to existence, no passion to inspire us.
Feelings make the world a home of opportunity. There are so many things we want to touch. There are so many experiences we want to have. There are so many people we want to be near.
Feelings make the world a place of danger and dread. There are so many things we want to avoid. There are so many experiences we want to push away. There are so many perils we want to escape.
Attraction and avoidance. Running to and running away. Attachment and separation. They are the recurring themes of human existence. They fill our lives with ecstasy and despair. They infuse our spirit and make us human.
For the honey and the bee sting,
For the bitter and the sweet,
For the pleasures and the sorrows
That make life complete.
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE
No feeling is all good or all bad. Every emotion started out as a strategy for survival. It drew us near to what was good for us. It made us move away from what was bad for us.
When anger started out, it defended our territory. It protected our family. It drove out intruders. When love began, it nurtured children. It fed the helpless. It guarded the young. When sadness appeared, it made us slow down. It gave us time to think. It allowed healing to take place. When joy made its debut, it mobilized our energies. It announced our strength. It reinforced our bond with others.
When we are defending our dignity, anger may be necessary. When we are building a community, love is essential. When we are faced with defeat, sadness is appropriate. When we are planning our future, joy is our friend.
There is a time and place for every feeling. Angry sadists do not understand. Loving masochists do not comprehend. But healthy people do.
HA-VA NA-GEE LA
Come and rejoice.
Most of us believe that it is easy to know what we feel. We have only to look inside our minds and hearts and discover what is there. If we are honest, if we are sincere, self-awareness is a simple matter.
But love and hate, anger and jealousy may be more secretive than we would prefer. Our minds are so complex that feelings wear disguises and often appear to be what they are not. Emotions can make us uncomfortable. They can tease us and embarrass us. They can taunt us and fill us with shame. We sometimes turn our backs on them and pretend that they are not there. We sometimes look at them and do not see them. Sincerity is not enough — especially if we are not strong enough to face reality.
Self-awareness needs strength. We need to be strong enough to feel what we do not want to feel. We need to be strong enough to experience what we do not want to experience. We need to be strong enough to remove the masks that shield us from the face of our own desires.
E-REV SHEL SHO-SHAN-NEEM
Evening of roses.
Let us go down to the garden.
To hear a song of love.
It would be so nice if all our feelings got along with each other. It would be so nice if they were friendly to one another, if they worked together to create an internal harmony of mind and heart.
But our emotions are less cooperative than we would prefer. They rub up against each other abrasively. They compete with each other. They fight to seize the energy of our will. Oftentimes we confront the problems of the moment with two opposing feelings. We love and we hate. We want to embrace and we want to reject. We want to reach out and we want to run back. Our emotions pull us in two different directions and make it hard to make decisions. Ambivalence becomes the soul of the human condition.
Being faithful to our feelings is not easy, especially if our feelings give us no clear instruction. Many people are comfortable with this limbo of indecision. They find ambivalence charming. Others find no virtue in waiting. They know that they must go beyond their emotions and choose their life.
For the expectant is the glory.
The future is theirs.
When we are born, when we are separated from the womb, we experience a sense of aloneness that never leaves us. As we grow up, as we become more and more aware of our own uniqueness, this feeling of apartness grows stronger and fills our hearts with a need for connecting.
There are many ways to connect. There are many paths to belonging. Men and women find each other and love each other and choose the commitment of marriage. Strangers meet strangers and discover that they can be good friends. Parents have children and nurture them with tender care. Clans and tribes, nations and peoples, embrace their members and give them the security of identity and roots.
Belonging is an experience of transcendence, an experience of being part of something greater than oneself. It starts with the human bonds of family and reaches out to wider horizons. There are times when we feel connected to all the people of the world. There are times when we feel we belong to the universe itself — to the evolutionary drama of life, to the very stars and beyond.
How good and how pleasant it is to celebrate together.
Some people go through life very carefully. They are afraid of their feelings. They are afraid of being swept away. They fear all intensity. Caution becomes their byword. Security becomes their dream.
But there are others who are ashamed to be timid. They know that life must be an adventure, that for each of us it happens once and must never be wasted. Boldness and courage discipline their fear. Curiosity and ambition fuel their passion. No tradition can hold them prisoner. No convention can restrain their creative power. They do not seek danger. But they will not avoid it if the moment demands it.
The human spirit is no disembodied soul. It is no quiet and demure thing that finds its home in heavenly bliss. It is the flame of our passions, the fire of our will, the intensity of our commitment to life. When it speaks, it speaks through our striving. It speaks through our deeds. It announces our vision of a better world.
Soon you will see how good it will be.
For many people, reason has a bad reputation. They see it as the party pooper of life, the enemy of passion, the foe of feeling. In their eyes, rational people are cold, austere, and distant. Only the devotees of faith and intuition know what to do with their emotions.
But this vision of reason is all distortion. It sets up straw men, only to tear them down. Feelings need reason to make life worthwhile. They need the discipline of common sense to guarantee our survival and dignity. Emotions are like children. They want what they want right away. They want what they want regardless of consequences. Love and anger are blind. They cannot see the future. They cannot even see each other. Sometimes their fires are not the fires of life. They are the fires of death and destruction.
Reason is no withdrawn logician. It is a concerned parent. It is the defender of our happiness, the protector of our fulfillment. It disciplines our fear. It manages our anger. It restrains our jealousy. It directs our love to wholesome ends.
Laugh if you will at all my dreams. I shall not change my faith in people.
To be a Jew is to feel many feelings. There is the security of roots, the pleasure of belonging, the pride of achievement, the warmth of solidarity, the joy of survival. There is the fear of rejection, the anger of victims, the sadness of separation, the loneliness of difference, and the bitterness of remembered wrongs.
Our experience has been no ordinary experience. Our history has been no commonplace adventure. We have been visited by the best and assaulted by the worst that the world can offer. We have achieved the peaks and sunk to the depths of the human possibility. Our presence does not arouse indifference. If we have enemies, their hatred is no ordinary hatred. If we have friends, their attachment is no ordinary connection. We have lived too hard and too long to settle for the tamer emotions.
When we sing, our songs have pain and pleasure. When we laugh, our laughter has surrender and defiance. When we hope, our hope has fear and determination.
Our hope has not yet perished.
CANDLE LIGHTING CEREMONY
Let us make peace and friendship for all the world.