The Freedom to Reach Out
The Freedom To Reach Out
by Claire Curran
Human suffering, though sometimes well hidden, bubbles up, and confronts us in surprising ways. For some of us, its when we see someone asking for money on the street corner on our commute, or the headline that reads Most of the World’s Population will Breathe Stagnant, Sooty Air by 2099, or the sinking feeling that comes after two months rain in one week’s time. How do we realize, and respond, to these moments, and the knowledge that something is not right?
For Rabbi Sim Glaser, confronting human suffering is at the heart of his work. When I asked him how he got involved in social justice work he said, “no matter what I do if you don't deal with the reality of human suffering and take a stand on what you think is right you're being dishonest in your profession. I just am not a hypocrite I don't want to sit at this desk and do things that seem holy but aren't doing anything.”
For Rabbi Glaser, his desk and his calling as a Rabbi hold him accountable to sacred action, not false posturing. The same can be said for all of us, as people of faith, and as members of the human family. But for many, its easy to feel overwhelmed, the problem seems too big, and the solutions often don’t feel to scale with the problem. Though we might feel some satisfaction in changing our light bulbs, we know those little orbs of light aren’t going to save our planet. So what do we do? How do we move out of denial and paralysis and into hopeful, powerful action?
As Rabbi Glaser answers this question, and tells me about his own commitment to authentically living out his duty as a religious leader, he tells me about the Seder. The Seder dinner marks the beginning of Passover in the Jewish tradition, celebrating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the course of the Seder, four cups of wine are drunk, to symbolize the four steps to freedom as told in Exodus 6:6-7:
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
This is not only a promise, but a path and a guide, a way out of slavery. The four verbs in this reading (bring ,free, redeem, take), are represented by the four cups of the Seder dinner. These cups of wine are symbolic of the fours steps to redemption and freedom. Though intended as freedom from Egypt, it can also be understood as freedom from oppressive ways of thinking, freedom from climate destruction, freedom to build a world that is just and sustainable for all. As demonstrated in these four steps, we can’t just recognize the problem and suddenly be free of it. If we could, we would have solved the climate crisis long ago. Instead,we rely on God’s guidance.
Rabbi Glaser explains to me the first cups represents God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, and out from under the Egyptians control. We can understand this first cup as knowing that climate change is happening. Then the second cup removes the shackles, the Israelites are out of Egypt and are no longer bound as slaves. We know that climate change is happening, and that we must take action. Then, God gives us God’s hand in a sign of partnership and covenant, that together acting with God we can overcome slavery, oppression, crisis. Rabbi Glaser tells, me, “at that point if the people aren't free enough to accept God's partnership they cannot drink the fourth cup.” When we are able to reach out our hands and accept that partnership, only then can we take fourth cup and be held by God, we find hope and community in our work, and are able to fully emerge from oppression.
Rabbi Glaser thinks that we are, “entering the second cup and are just beginning to see the disaster that’s unfolding, but the next step is the most important, taking God’s hand.” We must fully awaken to the disaster that’s unfolding, the reality of what will happen if we do not act. But we must also fully open our eyes to the immensely hopeful work that is being done, and the rich history of our diverse faith traditions of responding to injustice with hope and love. Together we have the opportunity to take God’s hand, to take our neighbor’s hand, to join together to change everything, to build a world that is safe and healthy for all at the People’s Climate March. Will you join us? Will you reach out your hand?