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Presidential Phone Calls and Fish Belly Moments

Well, I guess that I’m not going to be speaking with the President this New Year.  It’s true!  Every year for the past eight years, President Obama invited American rabbis to join him for a pre-New year conference call.  Ok … technically, I never actually spoke ‘with’ the President. However, I was on the call and heard him speak to me.  It was political and even a little forced, but it still felt kinda cool.  This year, (Oy, this year!), the New Year call is not happening.  The rabbinic organizations involved in setting up the call told the Current Occupant of the White House, “No!”.

For obvious reasons, the prospect of this year’s call felt very different from the Presidential New Year conference calls of years past. I fully support the rabbinic organizations (including my own, the CCAR) who protested the Current Occupant by choosing not to participate in the call.  The decision also gives me pause to question the ways we stand up to and confront conflict in our lives.  I am not only thinking about political or civil confrontation, but the facing up to threats or unrest in the interpersonal realm, as well.  There are times when there is power in our silence or refusal to engage.  There are times when we have to swallow our pride, fear or anxiety and directly engage with those who intimidate and threaten us.

Whether it is the case of the problematic Current Occupant or a friend or family member who taunts and menaces us, how do we know what to do and when?  I do not know the answer to that question.  How do we get in the right heartspace and headspace to make such a decision?  To that question, I do have a response.  We welcome the focus presented to us by Jewish tradition at this time of year … and take the time to get our heads and hearts clear and true.  

We see such head and heart clearing in the character of Jonah.  We meet Jonah again and again each Yom Kippur.  Yeah, that Jonah of the “Being Swallowed By A Giant Fish” episode.  He was called to go to Nineveh and ask the Ninevites to repent.  He not only refused, but ran!   In the end it was the intensity of the experience in the fish’s belly that helped him see clearly.  After all, the charge he received from On High to go to Nineveh in the first place was pretty much the same thing he heard from that same source while he was in the belly of the fish.  And yet, he heard it differently:

“After his harrowing experience in the storm and in the belly of the fish, Jonah has done some soul-searching and is ready to listen again, more deeply.  He hears again what is essentially the same message, but with a few key differences … Humbled now, Jonah is able to hear differently … ” (Sh’ma – A Journal of Jewish Ideas – S Blog)

If you will indulge me, this time of Elul that leads us to the Ten Days of Teshuvah can be a “Fish Belly” moment for each of us … to see and hear clearly the path of response to what challenges us.  Our tradition gifts us this time of year to find grounding and clarity so that we may discern if it is our silence or our words that a situation or relationship demands.  May this month of Elul and the approaching days of Teshuvah allow us to tap into our inner strength and grace and find the way that we each must constructively resist or engage those who would confront us.

By the way, if you should have the chance to speak with the Current Occupant, I might have some things that I want to say to him.

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