Well, here it is, Shabbat Shirah again. As a musician, I should be overjoyed. Sadly, like so many others, the recent passing of Debbie Friedman (z”l) has dampened my enthusiasm. Of course the fitting thing to do in Debbie’s honor is to push forward through the sorrow. I know that hundreds of my colleagues are doing so this Shabbat. As I wrote a few years back in my musing for Beshalakh 5767, March On, I know that I should hearken to my own words and heed the text of Judges 5:21:
“Tidrekhi nafshi oz” March on, my soul, with courage!
I find it’s not so easy.
Many others have written, most eloquently, about Debbie, her legacy, and our obligation to carry it forward. As much as I like to put in my own oar, this is one time when I am going to let others do most of the speaking. I commend to you their tributes, memories, histories, sharings, teachings, observations, and more.
On to what captured my attention this week, re-reading this parasha. It’s at the very end. It is the commandment to remember Amalek but utterly blot out his name under Heaven. It is also the foreboding reminder:
Milkhama L’Ad”nai Ba-Amalek midor dor – The L”rd will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages (JPS)
I have written about this before, most recently in my musing for Beshalakh 5765, G”d’s War. Then, I spoke of our need to be G”d’s partner in this unceasing war against evil. Now, just a few years down the road, I find myself a weary soldier in that endless battle. “March on, my soul, with courage” wears thin after a while. The platitudes no longer work. Thinks like “always darkest before the down” just don’t cut it. I don’t want to be in a continual war with evil. How do we reach the next level? Can we reach the next level, or are we doomed, as Torah says, to be eternally at war with Amalek?
Rather than be fatalistic about it, I have decided to be deterministic. No, I will not accept this hinting in the Torah at what the Xtians have turned into “original sin.” We have the power and ability to overcome the defects in our own natures. And, at least for me, we do not need the intermediary of an itinerant carpenter cum divine incarnation to make that happen. That, at least for me, is any easy out.
No, the next level is not eternal peace, at least not for me. That level, if it is even achievable, is far off. For me, the next level is a simple adjustment in the balance, so that, on the whole, the balance of good to evil keeps shifting in favor of good. This is what I wish to pursue-fewer and less frequent encounters with Amalek. I have to believe this is possible.
I want to be G”d’s partner not in an eternal war with Amalek, but in an ever diminishing conflict with the forces of senseless evil. If G”d is asking me to be an eternal partner in an eternal war, then it may be an offer I can’t accept wholeheartedly.
Aha. There’s a loophole. G”d does not say the G”d with be at war eternally with Amalek. G”d only gives us the impossible task of remembering always to blot out Amalek. It is Moshe who says this will be an eternal war between G”d and Amalek.
My prayer this Shabbat, strange as it sounds, is for Moshe to have been wrong when he said that.
Before I close, I do want to offer some thoughts related to Debbie’s passing. We read, early on in our parasha that the bones of Yosef were brought out of Egypt, in order to fulfill the promise made. There are two points related to this I want to mention. The first is to remind us all, as Jeff Klepper did so eloquently in this article, that :
In later years she observed that many of the great old songs were falling into disuse. One of the reasons we started Hava Nashira (a song-leader training institute at the Olin Sang Ruby Institute Camp in Wisconsin) in 1992 was to revive as much of the classic Jewish folk repertoire as we could. As far as she was concerned the newer songs, no matter who wrote them, could never match the golden oldies—folk and pop songs of every imaginable style—that she would sing late into the night at retreats and conferences wherever she went.
I have been privileged to sing those classics late into the night with Debbie. Debbie wanted us to be sure that we carried the bones of the classic Jewish folk repertoire with us, and not forget them. We should honor her legacy by continuing to do so. Secondly, we should carry Debbie’s music with us, and not forget them. Her music, and the revolution it inspired must not be consigned to the jukebox of history. In our zealousness to carry out this second task, we should not neglect the first. Preserving Debbie’s desire to preserve the legacy of songs that came before her is part and parcel of preserving her legacy.
Uri, uri, dab’ri shir!
Adrian (aka Migdalor Guy)
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester