Monday, October 29, 2018

Narrow Bridge (After Pittsburgh)

In the wake of Saturday’s tragedy, I offer a special chapter of e-Torah rather than the usual consideration of the weekly portion.  We’ll resume that endeavor next week.  I am still choosing to focus on a song to inspire further reflection.

“All the world is a narrow bridge.  The main thing is to go on, despite our fear.”
                        -Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Terrorists like the Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers feed on hatred.  Their evil purpose is to murder and maim—and in so doing, to instill fear.  They do not want us to feel safe in our synagogues and schools, and, alas, their malevolent intentions often bear fruit.  As the old Yiddish saying goes, Shver tzu zein a Yid—it has always been hard to be a Jew.  After this past Shabbat, it has gotten yet a little harder.  As we wrote to you then, your CABI board and staff are listening and learning more about how we can minimize the risks and bolster our security while remaining the warm and welcoming congregation that we’ve long taken deep pride in being.

At the same time, we should hold fast to Rebbe Nachman’s famous teaching.  The world is a very narrow bridge—and it is our Jewish calling to resist the temptation to yield to the fear sown by evil men.  As we say when we finish a book of Torah: Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek—Let us be strong and strengthen one another.

Over the last couple days, I have found both comfort and courage in the song Narrow Bridge by Nefesh Mountain, the Jewish old time and bluegrass band fronted by Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg, who joined us at our Shabbat retreat in McCall just a few years ago.  It is based on Rebbe Nachman’s wisdom, but transformed by Eric and Doni into a fully fleshed out journey from fear and loss toward hope and possibility.

We begin in a frozen landscape, weary and anxious—as so many of us feel right now:

When the first light came in, it was cold up north
and the frost slowly thawed in the dawn
It takes a faithful breath to put a weary mind at rest
and still remember the narrow bridge we’re on

We are living in troubled times.  What do we do about this?  For starters, we address this difficult truth, head on.  Perhaps just acknowledging the struggle helps us to move forward with faith rather than fear:

Troubled times, troubled times—you don’t easy a worried mind
Troubled times, troubled times—just stay behind.

And so we travel, as all inevitably do, through highs and lows, passing through broken, barren lands in search of glimpses of beauty:

It’s not far from our homes where the woods are turned to stones
and the feeling of wonder is nearly gone
But in the cracks of barren land a beauty grows unplanned
so we just keep to the narrow bridge we’re on

I have walked this world on a narrow bridge—Kol ha-olam kulo
From the lowlands so low to high up on the ridge—Gesher tza’ar m’od

Then, as the dark of night descends, we gather our strength—and something breaks through our sadness, suspicion, and cynicism.  The music starts out soft and slow, the swells into an epiphany:

When the night returns again and brings quiet through the glen
and still we hear the blackbirds call
From o’er these rivers you can see in the moonlight through the trees
that the bridge was not so narrow after all

My friends, in these troubled times let us walk that bridge together—for narrow though it may sometimes feel, it is wide enough to hold us all, if we walk together, with love and courage.

To hear Nefesh Mountain’s hymn of hope, Narrow Bridge:

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