Posted on September 5, 2018 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
Sen. Cory Booker describes an “aha” moment in his life that occurred when he was a law student at Yale. Having grown up in North Jersey, he decided that he would live in a housing project in Newark and commute to New Haven, Conn. He was already determined to make a difference in the community, but just what that would look like was not yet clear until he met Virginia Jones, a tenant organizer in the building on Martin Luther King Boulevard where Cory lived and in which her son had been murdered.
One day she asked Cory to describe their neighborhood. He began to talk about the troubles he saw there — the drug dealing, the abandoned buildings, and the projects — when she stopped him cold and said: “Boy, you need to understand that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you, and if you’re one of those people who only sees darkness [and] despair, that’s all there’s ever gonna be. But if you see hope, opportunity, if you’re stubborn enough to, every time you open your eyes, see love and the face of God, then you can be a change agent here. Then you can make a difference.”
That day Cory gained an insight that would define him going forward — an insight from which we, too, can benefit. Our inner disposition influences our outward gaze. We see what we are inclined to see. And if we don’t like what we see “out there,” maybe we ought to look inward and examine what’s going on inside of us. If we are filled with harsh emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, or hate, they will likely be mirrored in the world around us. But if our hearts are open and we see beauty and grace and goodness within us, we will likely see these things reflected out there.
The holy days that are before us are a time for introspection, a time to examine our deeds and make amends for the hurts we have caused, and also to consider the state of our souls, our inner disposition, our attitudes. There is wisdom to the words of the Chassidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim, who said: “You cannot find peace anywhere save in your own self…When we have made peace within ourselves, we will be able to make peace in the whole world.”
Let us begin these holy days by asking ourselves what we want to see in the world. Then let us reflect on whether we can honestly say that we embody that vision. If there is a gap, we know where there is work to be done to harmonize our inner life with our higher aspirations. And what better time to do this work than the season of repentance, when we gather as a community of faith in search of wholeness and renewal?
There is so much that is ugly in our world today, but there is also abundant beauty. If we look for the good, we will surely see it, and when we behold it we can embrace it and allow it to soften the hardness of our hearts. Signs of hope are all around us. We can find it in joy and laughter, the innocence of a child’s smile, a loving gaze, a kind word, or a thoughtful act. The glory of a sunset, a verdant meadow, or the rising of the tide can make our spirits soar. A lilting melody or a work of art can work its magic on our souls. Let us open our eyes and hearts and rejoice in the beauty of God’s creation, from the inner light of our souls to that of the most distant star. Tomorrow promises a new dawn of hope and healing if we rise to greet it.
To paraphrase the words of Miss Virginia Jones to Cory Booker: If we see hope and opportunity; if we’re stubborn enough every time we open our eyes to see love and the face of God, then we can be change agents here. Then we can make a difference.
There is much work to be done, and with God’s help we can do it. The change we seek in the world begins with a change of heart.
May we all be blessed with peace and love in the New Year 5779.
Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
Originally published in the September-October 2018 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.