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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

The Path to Collective Liberation Runs Through Community

By Rabbi David Jaffe


Judaism has a lot of new years. The two most prominent are Rosh Hashanah- literally “Head of the Year” falling on the first of Tishrei and yesterday, April 9th, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which Biblical texts call ‘the first month.” So which is really the new year? In good Talmudic fashion, Jewish tradition understands them both as legitimate beginnings, but for different reasons. Tishrei, with its Day of Judgement (Yom HaDin) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) focuses more on the creation of the world, the individual’s relationship with the Divine and personal growth. Nissan is a time of national, collective redemption and is the month when the Israelite tribes left slavery in ancient Egypt and became a nation. While Tishrei features atonement, Nissan promises redemption. In Judaism, liberation is a collective project. 


While Tishrei, (individual growth), and Nisan, (collective liberation), can complement each other, they also exist in tension. When I was in social work school, there was a constant fight between the people who were training as therapists and the people training as organizers. The therapists thought the organizers were shallow and unreflective about the psychological dynamics that drive so much social disfunction, the organizers thought the therapists were greedy and willfully ignorant of the larger societal injustices that caused so much human suffering. Of course, there is truth in both arguments. How can we bridge the gap between the personal and the collective to get to the liberation promised in Nissan?


The story of the Exodus, which will be retold around seders tables throughout the world in two weeks, gives us a clue. On the morning of the 15th of Nisan, millions of formerly enslaved people left Egypt in a massive act of collective liberation. However, the night before, these same people gathered in small groups - in family units or other configurations - to have a ritual meal that signified their transition from enslaved to free people. Why was this family-based meal necessary? Why not wait until the Exodus to gather as a large collective, like at Sinai, and have a large communal meal? 


The key is in the power of the small group to be a medium of transformation between the individual and the larger collective. Anyone who has been in a Mussar va’ad (practice group) or any spiritual growth group knows this power. The group holds us in loving accountability, provides inspiration and human contact, and so much more. We can bring our personal struggles and triumphs to the group and be seen and see others. This is how social growth happens and how an individual can start really envisioning larger collective liberation. 


I was recently at a gathering of the Lippman-Kanfer Foundation where research was presented on the key role of small groups in personal and communal growth. Perhaps this is the reason for the seder meal - to create a medium for each individual to do their personal inner work, and to see themselves in a bigger story—first among the small group and then among the larger community. 


This pathway from individual to small group to the larger community is central to our work at Kirva. We have been hearing recently how much people value and desire the sense of community they get from being in a practice group and part of a larger movement. To continue building this community, we are offering our first Spirtual Immersive Retreat this summer (see below for details). The Immersive will be an opportunity to grow your personal practice in the context of small group va’ads within a larger community of practitioners. Anyone who wants, can emerge from the program with a study partner or practice group to continue strengthening themselves for the work of collective liberation.


May this Nissan be a time for noticing how we can support ourselves and each other in smaller, intimate ways, to do the much-needed communal work of collective liberation. 


Chodesh Tov,

David


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