When I look at the potential political landscape in the United States, when I reflect on mine here in Israel, I feel like retreating. There are flickers of hope now and again, but the loudest voices are depressing and wearisome.
A number of months ago, I stumbled across this unpublished poem by Martin Buber, and it reminds me of who I am and what my role is, especially in times like these.
I wonder if Martin Buber was referencing a well-known saying (now song) by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810):
“All the world is a very narrow bridge,
and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear.”
I’m not sure if Buber is polemicizing against this phrase or an interpretation of the phrase he didn’t like. To me, Buber’s poem invites us to reject blind faith and refuse the simple (simplistic) and loud answers to our questions. Instead, Buber advises us to embrace and face contradiction. We cannot dismiss the world and run toward the obvious; we need to look at the difficult situations in front of us and face our reality. And only when we are still and move away from the cacophonous voices can we hear the familiar gentle voice calling us to remember our humanity and obligation to one another.
It’s a good reminder, in this world of Drumphs and Bibis that
that which beckons loudly,
that which calls us with great reminders of fear and terror
to turn away from the world,
to retreat into the ingroup,
saying it’s not worth engaging with those around us,
that we should build walls and “tell it like it is” (speaking hate and exclusion)
that is not what we should do or who we are meant to be.
The True calls us
to face the other,
to face each other,
and when we do,
we will see our human reflection in another’s eyes,
but to see it,
we need to draw close.