In Search of Grace

One morning last week I walked past our empty family room where someone had left a television on and I overheard the words: “Shouldn’t there be a hunger for grace?” The words were uttered by a young journalist of Asian descent, Cat Rakowski. Funny how inspiration can come from the odd moment.

It seems that Rakowski, troubled by the recent anti-Asian hate incidents, was moved to contact a boy who had bullied her when they were about 13 or 14 years old. “I cold-messaged someone who hurt me more than 20 years ago, and we had a beautiful conversation,” she wrote. For full story: https://www.nbcnews.com/know-your-value/feature/amid-rise-anti-asian-hate-incidents-i-reached-out-boy-ncna1261563

Her story moved me and got me thinking about the Passover holiday ahead during which Jews observe a seminal event in our faith: the Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery in ancient Egypt. Passover involves retelling the story of our exodus followed by a specific and urgent call to action.

But first I had to look up the definition of grace as it appears in ancient Hebrew texts. According to Candace Kwiatek, Jewish educator and writer, grace is variously defined as God’s mercy, compassion and the moral quality of kindness. The Hebrew word for grace is chen, which by extension connotes the unmerited favor of one human toward another, or of God toward humankind. It is numbered among God’s principal attributes in Ex. 34:6-7: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” For greater detail: https://daytonjewishobserver.org/2015/05/amazing-but-divergent-concepts-of-grace/

Kwiatek continued: “Throughout the Torah and expressed directly by the prophets (Isaiah and Joel, in particular) is the notion that God’s mercy is conditional upon our attempts to act in the image of God, to obey the commandments in their quest to repair the world.”

Repairing the world, translated into Hebrew as Tikkun Olam, is the true basis for the Passover observance. Jews are asked to contemplate the implications of Moses delivering the Hebrews from slavery as a point of departure to examine and then help those who are still enslaved both literally and figuratively.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky put it this way: “People can be enslaved in more ways than one—by poverty and inequality; by intolerance and bigotry; by ignorance and fear and hate. When we have the courage to do what is right for ourselves and others, we are free.” To read more about Rabbi Olitzky:  https://www.haggadot.com/contributors-details/kerry-olitzky

Anyone who has ever sat through a seder knows that this idea underscores the Passover rituals and is designed to imbue in children and grandchildren the obligation to repair the world. Olitzky further observed: “In every generation is also the thread connecting one generation to the next, transmitting Jewish identity in whatever form it takes and no matter the shape of the family. Those from other backgrounds enrich our community with the experience of other practices, traditions and ways of thinking.”

Helping others of all faiths, ethnicities and cultures in need is a Jew’s solemn duty. Each year new acts of oppression against peoples here and abroad are added to history’s list. The recent attacks on Asian-Americans will likely be referenced at many Seder tables tonight.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add a personal recollection of Passovers past, when as a child I exchanged eye rolls with my older brother as the family squabbled over which passages from the Haggadah (Passover prayerbook) should be explicated in excruciating detail for our benefit. We were hungry and bored. When he was about the same age, our son rolled his eyes too. And so will our granddaughter. Part of emulating God’s grace is being able to smile at the inexorable nature of how we learn to comprehend it.

It may have taken Cat Rakowski 20 years to find grace with her bully, but she knows it was worth it. “My heart healed more in an instant than I thought possible. He and I went on to chat for more than 30 minutes and agreed we wish we could hug and introduce our children to each other someday.”

In this Judeo-Christian holiday season, all of us at the Courier wish you and your loved ones joy…and grace.  

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