Unspoken Word
October 19, 2023
What Is Your Responsbility?

A few days ago, Rabbi Zoe B. Zak from Temple Israel of Catskill invited me to write something about peace and then read it, last night, at an interfaith service she was organizing at the temple in response to the awful situation in the Middle East.

Zoe's invitation got me thinking and feeling in some deep ways -- not only about the conflict in Israel and Palestine, but about conflict in general -- how our beautiful planet is all too often a planet of war, duality, and aggression. What follows is what I wrote and what I read to the interfaith gathering at the temple last night.

"I am not here tonight to talk about Israeli/Palestinian politics. Nor am I here to point fingers, judge or philosophize about who's right and who's wrong in the Middle East. I will leave that to the pundits, politicians and spin doctors.

I am here to talk about something else -- a timeless reality that resides in the hearts of every one of us here in this room tonight and the billions of others who are not -- the place where true and lasting peace resides -- what all religions, scriptures and spiritual paths espouse -- something that is often easier to talk about than experience.

In the world, as we know it, the world of countries and borders, peace is something that is legislated far more often than it is lived.

This approach takes the form of cease fires and truces -- paperwork, not inner work.

And while I understand that all of these endeavors have their time and place, real peace is something far beyond that.

Historians tell us that there has only been a total of 200 years when there hasn't been at least one war going on somewhere in the world. That computes to just 8 percent of life on planet earth when there hasn't been a war going on.

There have been more than 14,500 wars since the beginning of recorded history. In the 20th century alone, 260 million people have died in wars and other conflicts.

What is happening these days in Israel and Gaza -- and let us not forget Russia and Ukraine -- is just the latest expression of this madness.
What is going on, my friends? What is going on? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

As you well know, there are no easy answers. Mankind has yet to figure this out.

The battle, if we can call it that, wages not only on the battlefield, but also in our cities, schools, streets, government, psyches, and our own homes.

Did you know that 50% of all marriages in the US end in divorce?

At the wedding, husbands and wives pledge their undying love to each other -- but are all too often unable to live up to that pledge. None of us are without conflict in our lives. It comes with the territory of being human.

When I was 30, searching for peace, I took a vow of renunciation and lived for five years in an ashram as a modern-day monk. I meditated daily, read many holy books, and tried my best to live the Golden Rule. Later in life, over the course of four years, I worked in an Islamic school -- the only Jew among 1,000 Muslims.

That all sounds good, I know, but I've also been divorced twice and have experienced the discomfort of conflict in my own home.

It is easy to talk about the problem of conflict. What's not easy to talk about is the solution -- how we, as human beings, regardless of our apparent differences can come together in peace and be able to see the Divine in each other instead of our apparent differences.

Where does this effort begin? Inside of each and every one of us.
Peace begins in the human heart, not in a court of law. Peace begins within, not in Congress, Parliament or the battlefield.

This is why Temple Israel of Catskill exists. This is why churches exist and mosques and monasteries. This is why religions exist and scriptures, rabbis, priests, sages, saints, Masters and anyone else who has ever attempted to live a life of the spirit.

If you want a flower to grow, you will need to water the root, not the leaves. What is that root for you?

Yes, we can send money, aid and diplomats to the Middle East. And yes, we can send our thoughts and prayers. But what we can't send is the awakened heart.

We can be compassionate, but we can't export compassion.

We can wish people well, but we cannot make them well.

This can only come from within -- the recognition that we are all one people, regardless of the color of our skin, language, religion, customs, politics, perceptions, or our favorite name for God.

The universe, say the astrophysicists, is 47 billion light years wide.
In the observable universe, there are an estimated 100 billion to 200 billion galaxies. Each of these contain anywhere from a few billion to trillions of stars, and many of these stars have planetary systems.

Here we are on one of these planets -- the one between Mars (the planet of war) and Venus (the planet of love), and what do we spend our time doing? Judging. Blaming. Demonizing. Fighting. Killing. Weeping and wailing.

This is not what life is for, my friends. This is not what life is for.

We are here for something else. We are here to wake up. We are here to love. We are here to realize the magnificence of life in ourselves and each other.

Before I conclude, I would like to ask you a question -- one I first heard from a wise woman at a gathering much like this one soon after 9-11 more than two decades ago.

"What is your responsibility?"

What can YOU do within your sphere of influence to help make this a planet of love, not war?

You don't need to be a world leader to bring about this peace. You don't need to be a rabbi, priest or imam. You only need to be a human being. And you are!

Start where you live! In your own home. In your neighborhood. In your town. Begin by finding peace within yourself. Make amends with yourself. End the war with yourself. And, from there, spread peace wherever you go.

Hug someone! Make them tea! Take a breath. Savor it. Listen more deeply than you usually do. Assume the best in others. Be kind. And above all... do whatever it takes to be at peace with yourself, starting now -- at THIS very moment."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:12 AM | Comments (0)

“I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry.”
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