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Anyone Can Follow the Recipe: Resist. Dissent. Persist. September 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

Yoga Sūtra 2.38: brahmacaryapratişţhāyām vīryalābhah

– “When walking in awareness of the highest reality is firmly established, then great strength, capacity, or vitality (‘virya’) is acquired.”

So, just to be up front, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about sex today.

As a point of clarification, I will point out that when many people in the West talk about brahmacarya, the fourth yamā (“restraint” or universal commandment) they talk about it as celibacy – which is more of an effect of the practice than the practice itself. This idea occurs, first, because it is hard to see the practice. Since it is hard to see what is going on inside of someone’s head and heart, we look to see the outward effect and, in this case, it means that the Sanskrit is sometimes translated as “continence,” which is the control of one’s bodily fluids; specifically as it relates to the bladder and bowels. Then the explanation gets extended to fluid exchanged during sex. This is all relevant; however, it’s also like saying monks shave their heads so they don’t have to wash their hair.

In truth, brahmacarya is more literally translated as “following G-d” or “chasing G-d.” I, more often than not, will explain it as conducting one’s self with the awareness that everyone and everything are connected. In other words, the fourth external restraint or universal commandment is to think, speak, and act justly and divinely.

So, today, I’m going to talk about a couple of people who lived their lives justly (even righteously) and divinely – and with an awareness of how we are all connected. The fact that one of these individuals was Jewish and that some believe the other should be recognized by Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) as “Righteous Among Nations” is not a coincidence. According to the Jewish tradition, today is Rosh Hashanah, “the Head of the Year” and the beginning of the High Holidays, also known as the “Ten Days of Awe” or “Ten Days of Repentance” which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the holiest of times on the Jewish calendar. Additionally, for many around the world, it is the only time during the year when they attend services. It is a time of reflection, remembrance, and repentance.

It is also a time of preparation…. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, we remember: “The Notorious R. B. G.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), who died yesterday (Friday, September 18th) and Calvary Captain Pilecki Pilecki (also known as Tomasz Serafiński) who allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis today in 1940, in order to report the truth about what was going on in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

Let’s start with Calvary Captain Pilecki, who served as an officer in the Polish Army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919 – 1920) and during World War II. As part of the Resistance to Nazi Occupied Poland, he co-founded the Secret Polish Army (along with Lieutenant Colonel Jan Henryk “Darwicz” Włodarkiewicz and Lieutenant Colonel Władysław “Stefan” Surmacki ), which eventually became part of the Home Army. When Germany invaded Poland at the end of 1939, very little was known about the concentration camps, but Captail Pilecki had a plan. His idea, which was approved by his Polish Army superiors, was to come out of hiding during a Warsaw roundup in order to be arrested and shipped to Auschwitz, where he could organize the resistance and report on the situation from the inside.

“I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.”

– Witold Pilecki’s statement to the judge after his sentencing, May 15, 1948

He was given a false identity card and was arrested on September 19, 1940. Arrested with him were 2,000 civilians, including journalist and historian Władysław Bartoszewski (who was designated “Righteous Among Nations” in 1965). After being detained for two days, “Tomasz Serafiński” was assigned number 4859 and shipped to Auschwitz, where he would document the difference between the way the Nazis treated Jewish people versus non-Jewish people and the escalating move towards genocide. During his two and a half years at Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki would form Union of Military Organizations (ZOW), a resistance organization within the camp, which set up intelligence networks; distributed extra food, clothing, and medical supplies; boosted morale; and prepared for a possible Home Army coup. At one point, ZOW was even able to construct and use a secret radio receiver and help at least 4 Polish men escape (with one of Witold’s reports).

“Witold’s Report” (also known as “Pilecki’s Report”) was information that was regularly smuggled through the Polish resistance to London and even to the British government. It provided the outside world with the first “official” documentation of the Nazi’s atrocities. For much of the war, however, the reports of genocide were considered too unbelievable.  As the Nazi’s plans became more and more obvious, and as his calls for the Allies to bomb the camps were denied, Captain Pilecki realized he was running out of time. He was receiving word from the outside that the Allies supported the idea of a prisoner insurrection –which he too had one time suggested. However, by 1943, those inside were too weakened to mount an attack. He thought could be more convincing in person, so he put a new plan in motion.

After he escaped in April 1943, Captain Pilecki wrote “Report W,” outlining the conditions of the camps, as well as details about the gas chambers, the selection process, the crematorias, and the sterilization experiments. His report was signed by other escapees and included the names of ZOW members. He continued to work and organize the resistance, while also expanding “Report W.” He participated in the Warsaw Uprising and was reassigned to Italy, but eventually returned to Communist-controlled Poland. In May of 1947, he was arrested by Communist government and tortured, but he would not reveal other members of the resistance. He was eventually “tried” and executed. His most comprehensive version of the “W Report” (from 1945) was published in 2012 as The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery and his life has been the subject of a number of books, songs, and articles.

“Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah [return and prayer and righteous acts]
deflect the evil of the decree.”

– quoted from the poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”)

Even if you are not Jewish, even if you’ve never attended services during the High Holidays, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of the words from the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”). It begins with the belief that on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes people’s names and fates in the “Book of Life” and that book is sealed on Yom Kippur. Then there is a litany of fates. Some people will go to services specifically to hear the poem, some will avoid it (as parts are explicit and can be triggering). Many of the fates are included in a beautifully haunting song by a young Leonard Cohen – which will stick with you! However, outside of the tradition, people don’t really focus on the end of the poem, which highlights the fact that (in theory) we have 10 days to ensure our name and fate are sealed favorably. The end of the poem outlines three key elements to the observation of this holiest of times. These three key elements can also be described as key elements to living a good life.

Supreme Court of the United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a good life. She was a trailblazer who’s life, legacy, and style –as a lawyer, a judge, a woman, a working mom, a wife, and a fitness wonder – is the reason she’s “notorious.” She had the ability to stay open-minded, even when her mind was made up, and to hear out people with opposing views. “We are different, we are one,” a line from the opera Scalia/Ginsberg, perfectly sums up her close friendship with the ultra conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and also her approach to how the law should be applied. In some ways, she was small, quiet, and unassuming. In other ways, she was larger-than-life,” determined to keep dreams alive,” and defiantly righteous.

She had what can best be described as “the ultimate partnership” or “an atypical 1950’s marriage” with her husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg. During their 56 years of marriage (until his cancer-related death), they raised a family while she made sure he graduated from law school despite his first bout with cancer and he campaigned for her to be nominated to the federal court and SCOTUS. She was the highest ranking woman in her graduating class at Cornell University and only one of nine women (with about 500 men) enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956. She had made Harvard Law Review, transferred and graduated (at the top of her class) from Columbia Law School, taught law at a major university, argued before the Supreme Court, and endured anti-Semitism and sexism by the time her name was put on the short list for the Supreme Court.  She was the second woman and the first Jewish woman appointed to SCOTUS and one of eight Jewish justices who have severed on the USA’s highest court.

“I have a last thank you. It is to my mother, Celia Amster Bader, the bravest and strongest person I have ever known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”

– quoted from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s SCOTUS nomination speech, June 14, 1993

Celia Bader died of cancer when the young high school cheerleader known as “Kiki Bader” was just about to graduate from high school. Because she was a girl, the young teen was excluded from some of the traditional Jewish mourning rituals – a fact that would fuel her desire to see change in the world. While she did, eventually, turn back to the faith of her youth, I don’t know how devout Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was; so I don’t know for sure the part that prayer played in her life. As to the other two elements, however, we see them again and again in her story.

Teshuvah is Hebrew for “return” and also “repentance.” In truth, the two translations go hand-on-hand, because to repent is to return to G-d, community, your true self. First as a Civil Rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and then as a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the business of returning to the spirit of the law and the Constitution. She was also in the business of giving people, companies, and the country an opportunity to be better than the worst versions of ourselves. Many people find it ironic that so much of her early work, work that strengthened the rights of women, was actually on behalf of men. To me, though, that work is reminiscent of Captain Witold Pilecki, who wrote, “When marching along the gray road towards the tannery in a column raising clouds of dust, one saw the beautiful red light of the dawn shining on the white flowers in the orchards and on the trees by the roadside, or on the return journey we would encounter young couples out walking, breathing in the beauty of springtime, or women peacefully pushing their children in prams — then the thought uncomfortably bouncing around one’s brain would arise . . . swirling around, stubbornly seeking some solution to the insoluble question: Were we all . . . people?”

“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

 

 – United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (quoted from The Mercury News, Feb. 6, 2017)

 Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “righteousness,” “righteous acts,” or “charity” and comes from the word tzedek, which means “righteousness,” “fairness,” and “justice.” Now, Biblically speaking, references to charity are related to harvests. While it is easy to see how helping someone less fortunate is righteous; how is it justice? The answer is found in The Notorious RBG’s own words and actions. The answer is also found in Jewish tradition where there is an obligation to do what one can to “heal” or “repair” the world – and there is no arguing that Justice Bader Ginsburg did her part. Again and again, she worked to fix what was broken in our legal system and ultimately in our adherence to the spirit of the Constitution.

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.

You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.”

Devarim – Deuteronomy (16:18 – 20)

Pardon me, while we jump to October.

In the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy contains a list of observations commanded by G-d. They are pretty specific and in chronological order. Then, at the end of the list, after Sukkot, the “Festival of Booths” – which includes the commandment not to come empty-handed – there is an interesting passage that is directly tied to being blessed. And, that order to establish a fair and justice society are the words Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had in her office: “Zedek, zedel, tirdof” (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”).

Out of context, the words seem simple and obvious. Of course, those words would resonate with a world-renowned judicial expert, But, go back; look again. What the Bible tells us is that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to pursue what is just and fair. Go back; look again at the poem. The poem tells is that our fate is sealed (in a positive way) when our thoughts, words, and deeds are in pursuit of what is fair and right. Not for a second did the Brooklyn-born and raised R. B. G. take those words for granted.

Sunrise

Sunset

In my family’s religious and cultural tradition, a person’s birth is marked as “sunrise” and their physical death is marked as “sunset.” Growing up, I was also surrounded by people – Jewish people – who’s new day dawned at as the sun set. The dichotomy was always oddly beautiful to me: a reminder that something is always beginning as something ends. For obvious reasons, I felt sick when I heard that Justice Bader Ginsburg would not be going into the New Year with us. Like my maternal grandmother, she battled cancer for a long time and so, sad as I am for her family, her friends, and the world, I am grateful she no longer has to deal with the pain.

There are many people, from many demographics, that may be asking, why right now; trying to make sense of something that is hard to believe. I think, though, that this is not the time to question or reason. This is a time to celebrate and grieve. Celebrate a woman who was blessed with an inspirational life. Remember how she lived in a way that defied convention and established a way of being that some people take for granted. But, never take it for granted. Plan how you can live life on your terms – in a way that is fair and justice, righteous and inspiring. Divine.

“… don’t give way to emotions that sap your energy, like anger. Take a deep breath and speak calmly.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, sharing advice from her mother, in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

This week’s sūtra indicates that there is power in following in the footsteps of the divine. Another translation, however, indicates that when we achieve that power (from following in the footsteps of the divine) we have “the capacity to transmit knowledge.” The Notorious R. B. G. did both. In 2016, she not only share wisdom from her mother, Celia, but also mentioned advice from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (the first woman on the high court) who essentially shared the secret to serving on the high court while dealing with cancer: use your time wisely.

When we look back, we can clearly see that the Notorious R. B. G. spent her whole life following good advice, while transmitting knowledge and wisdom. Let’s do the same; and move forward.

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2002 interview with NPR

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 19th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“We have a vibrant and energetic body and are firm and confident.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.38 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

She definitely fits the description above!

“People ask me, ‘When will you be satisfied with the number of women on the Supreme Court?’ When there are nine.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

### MAY YOUR NAME BE WRITTEN & SEALED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE ###

Comments»

1. kennasarge - September 19, 2020

Thanks for this i learned so much. i know ur not preaching but PREACH! 😊 ASHE R. B. G.

On Sat, Sep 19, 2020 at 6:27 AM A Joyful Practice wrote:

> > > > > > > ajoyfulpractice posted: ” > (“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the > High Holidays.) > > Yoga Sūtra 2.38: brahmacaryapratişţhāyām vīryalābhah > – “When walking in awareness of the highest reality is firmly established, > then great strength, capacity, or ” > > > >


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