Today is Rosh Chodesh Shvat and I am out protesting the atrocious arrogance and blatant hatred that is the root of evil, ungodliness, and this administration's policy towards DACA. The cycle of the moon, the Talmud teaches, comes from its desire to be the exclusive governing luminary in the sky, completely lacking the awareness that it isn’t the actual source of any light. The consequence is that it is diminished as a reminder that it’s light is but a reflection of the sun. So too are we a reflection of the Divine light and we are clearly in need of a reminder of our source.
Elijah the prophet is sent to rebuke a haughty rabbinical student who thinks too highly of himself. The prophet presents as someone with a very different appearance and greets the rabbi with pleasantries. “Shalom aleichem rebbe.” says the man. The rabbi responds “Empty one! How ugly you are! Is everyone in your town this ugly?!” The prophetic voice answering the rabbi and providing us with a holy perspective says “I do not know, but you should go to the Artisan that made me and say ‘How ugly is the vessel you made!’”.
When we can’t see the Divine image in another, all we see is an empty shell. Breaking up families, separating children from parents, and the ways the repeal of DACA prioritizes ethnicity and place of birth above character, communal contributions and life experience.
Today could be the Rosh Hashanah for the trees, but its not. In fact, it’s the only new year that isn’t on the first of the month. On the first Rosh Hashana, the day that Adam and Eve were formed, the verse teaches וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה הַנָּחָ֥שׁ הִשִּׁיאַ֖נִי וָאֹכֵֽל , “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” The mystics observe that the word for deception is constructed from the words “יש אני” there is, I. Our distorted elevation of self corrupts reality and allows us to be deceived. G-d is truth and in those spaces of artificial inflation and false occupation, we push God out.
In the Book of Creation the author associates the דלי, with this month of Shevat. D’li is literally a bucket, the sign of Aquarius in the zodiac, and is related to the hebrew letter “ד” dalet. It speaks to drawing up the impoverished and creating entrances for them to better spaces. Due to Adam and Eve’s selfish posture of consumption, the letter “ד” was defiled and removed from G-d’s names of שד-י and אדנ”י leaving אני, “I”, and יש, “there is.”
In the first Mishnah of Rosh Hashanah, we learn of a dispute between the houses of Shammai and Hillel as to when is the Rosh Hashanah of the trees. Bais Shammai says it is today, the first of Shevat. Bais Hillel argues and posits that the new year of the trees is on the full moon, the 15th, otherwise known as tu b'shvat. Shammai’s house of study was exclusionary and elitist and Shammai himself famously denies entry into Judaism to potential converts. The Talmud relates that after Hillel, the radically humble and inclusive lover of humans, converted these individuals they met up and they said ”Shammai’s rigidity sought to drive us from the world; Hillel’s humility brought us beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.”.
The Kabbalists teach that Shammai is punished for his policy of exclusivity by being reincarnated as Shimon ben Azzi. Shimon, in Hebrew שמעון, alludes to the sin, עון, and Shammai שמ. Hillel provides perspective on balancing solo and communal responsibility with spiritual practice. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי.
Tradition teaches that “אני” is an allusion to G-d, identified with the first word of the Ten Commandments. In Tractate Sukkah, Hillel teachs “אם אני כאן הכל כאן, ואם איני כאן מי כאן” “ If I am here, everyone is here; and if I am not here, who is here?” If we see the G-dliness of people, then everyone is welcome, but if not, it doesn’t matter who is is granted entry, G-d won’t be there.
Hillel reunited the “ד” back with the “אני” making G-d’s name אדנ-י whole again; הלל has the same numerical value as אדנ-י. Today, as many take a stand in support of DACA, we have an opportunity to use our privilege and democracy to take the “לי” “me” and restore the wholeness of the Divine by committing our own “ד” to make a דלי, an instrument of elevation and inclusivity. May we heed the words of the prophet Elijah and be the vessel that G-d intended. Let us together ally to highlight the souls of the hundreds of thousands that are not being seen for who they are simply because of their immigration status; one of a kind, handmade, irreplaceable creation, a self-portrait of a unique aspect of God.
Letter written to a community day school threatening to expel a transgender student.