Perpendicular Play

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Two Things Noble reader…
1.  This week, I share my article from the Baltimore Jewish Times which references this blog and addresses a largely urban challenge of responding to (or better yet anticipating) the needs of our neighbors. 
2. A set-back today for those of us who hope the State of Maryland will legalize same-sex marriage.  Though I wrote the piece below before today’s disappointing news, I would humbly suggest that aspiring to more “perpendicular play” means first being able to truly see the other.  This is a deeply “religious” value in the New Jewish Neighborhood.
Parshat Vayikra
March 11, 2011
Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg
Special to the Jewish Times
Recently, I mentioned in a blog post, “Some move to the suburbs to have more space. People like me, who grew up in the suburbs, move to the city not to have space, but to share it.” It seems to me this is a great challenge of societal living: how to fulfill our individual or parochial interests while discovering and fostering points of overlap that benefit our broader communities?
While living in our Chicago three-flat, my morning ritual involved shuffling downstairs in my bathrobe and slippers to grab the morning paper. Bleary-eyed and caffeine-ready, I would often take our upstairs neighbor’s paper as well, leaving it outside his door. He, in turn, would do the same for me. Our actions were not overly magnanimous — neither of us went all that far “out of the way” for the other. But that simple act of retrieving each other’s newspaper helped us to establish a more meaningful and “neighborly” relationship. I would claim that each of us hears (and because we’re tired or time-pressed so often ignores) that voice of conscience calling out to us. Simple, yes, but being intentional with our neighbors is a hallmark of successful urban or suburban living.
Those of us who are religiously-minded tend to equate that voice of conscience with the voice of God. In this sense, the Torah portion this week explores a similar question: Where and how do we hear God’s voice, and what might God be telling us to do? The parshah begins, “Vayikra … The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed), saying, ‘Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them …’ ” (Lev. 1:1-2). Rashi (11th century, France) explains the Ohel Moed was designed in a way as to cut off sound precisely at the entrance to the tent. Moses, then, was the only one capable of hearing God’s call. In a way, this is how all of us experience God — individually, in prayer, meditation or in the unexpected moments of everyday living. We hear God’s voice internally, limited to the confines of our “tents.” But the parshah reminds us that God’s call must not end where we begin. The Lord calls out with instructions, not indulgences. We are meant to stretch beyond our heads, hearts and even living spaces.
There is a concept in childhood development called “parallel play.” Parents and psychologists understand that a critical stage in the socialization of young children is that time when they play not with each other but near each other. Until recently, our 3-year-old did exactly this, but now has begun to engage more directly with his peers, creating imaginative games, sharing stories and toys as children are apt to do. A great challenge of urban living in particular is that many adults engage in a similar type of “parallel play.”  We appreciate living in closer quarters, sharing parks, coffee shops and gyms, but we rarely reach out in meaningful ways. Still, the voice of conscience, the voice of God, calls to us to do more.
God may speak to us individually, but there is a charge that accompanies divine inspiration, a “calling” that ought to follow a “call.” According to Rashi, Moses, having experienced God’s “call,” speaks to the people, and says, “For your sake, God speaks with me.”  We live in a time without prophets and priests, but I believe we can still hear God’s voice. If we listen closely, perhaps we can determine for whose sake God is calling to us.

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