The Text:
The narrative of Joseph’s dream interpretations continues in this week’s Parshat, or Torah portion, Mikeitz. However, on a whim, I am going to switch and reflect on one line from this week’s Haftorah portion, Zechariah.[1]

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts. Whoever you are, O great mountain in the path of Zerubbabel, turn into level ground! For he shall produce that excellent stone; it shall be greeted with shouts of ‘Beautiful! Beautiful!’” (Zechariah 4:6-7)

While I grew up singing this line of Zechariah in Debbie Friedman’s popular song, ‘Not by Might, Not by Power’, I never before thought of what the line may imply.

Not by Might, Not by Power (Debbie Friedman)
(lyrics from Zechariah 4:6)
Chorus: Not by might, and not by power
But by spirit alone
Shall we all live in peace.

The children sing
The children dream
And their tears may fall
But we'll hear them call
And another song will rise (3x). Chorus.

The Implication:
The Zechariah quote itself implies, that by sheer belief, spirituality, and connection we will accomplish great things. I think in order to understand the quote we need to understand what is it that we believe in. These are questions that don’t necessarily have clear-cut simple answers. Why do we pray, or what is it that we are praying for? Why do we join to pray as spiritual communities? How do we cultivate the ‘spirit’ that is being referred to?

While in the context of Zechariah, the idea is that our belief in G-d will be enough to create what is needed. However, belief itself does not say anything without intention, or in Hebrew, Kavanah. Kavanah can be translated to mean intention or with intentionality. Kavanah also has a deeper meaning. Kavanah means actions with meaning behind them, intention of the heart, or as Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “Awareness of symbolic meaning is awareness of a specific idea; kavanah is awareness of an ineffable situation.” What is it that we believe in enough to act with full Kavanah? Or, is it that by acting with true Kavanah we are growing as spiritual communities?

Power without good intentions can be destructive. This is why we must reflect and focus on the intentions behind our beliefs. If we are intentional about our spirituality, and our intention is to do good, then we can funnel power to achieve our shared dreams towards a better world.

This week, in Jewish history we celebrate Chanukah. Chanukah is a holiday that commemorates a military victory for the Jewish rebel army the Maccabees. The Chanukah story highlights two important pieces of history. One, a miracle occurred when oil that was meant to last for only one day lasted for eight. The second is that an army, which should have been defeated, outsmarted their opponents.

As we see in the text of Zechariah, and in the story of Chanukah, both intention and hope are needed for achieving spirit. In Zechariah it is through full belief, with Kavanah, in G-d that will lead to change. The Maccabees had both faith in themselves and intentionally strategized towards victory. What good is hope without acting intentionally? Why are we spiritual? What is it that we hope will happen? Do miracles happen often enough that we can rely on just our hope, or must we also include intentional actions? While we can’t build power without shared hope, we also can’t be powerful with just the belief that we can be. We have to be willing to give our all to our beliefs. That is how I interpret Kavanah, not just as good intention, or intention with meaning behind it, but as something you believe in so much that when you ‘pray with Kavanah’ you must put your whole self into that belief, because failing to do so would make it meaningless.

The Application:
How do we act intentionally? How do we funnel our beliefs to make intentional change? Kavanah is applicable to both large and small-scale issues within our lives. In parshat Vayeishev I examined how Tamar and Joseph mapped out power within their own lives, and acted as individuals. Spirituality is more of a shared experience of faith, using Kavanah to shift power, and gaining communal spirit.

Communities that come together in intentional ways around their shared beliefs enact change. They do not enact change by might, or power alone, but instead by their spirit, their intentional beliefs.

Community Organizing is successful by bringing people together around their shared beliefs, values and towards intentional, achievable goals. Community Organizers work by bringing individuals together, researching community issues, and building campaigns around a groups' own self-interests. Whether it be students fighting to end a genocide in Darfur, affordable health care, creating parent-teacher home visits to better understand local student needs (a recent campaign victory of my friend Dan Lesser), all rely on Kavanah, which builds community power and thereby spirit.

There are faith-based organizations doing community organizing work all over the country. Here are just some of the Jewish organizations whose community organizing work I’m inspired by:

Jewish Organizing Initiative
epair the World
American Jewish World Service
Jewish Funds for Justice
Jews For Racial and Economic Justice
Just Congregations

Jewish Community Relations Council

May you find time to reflect on both Kavanah, and your own beliefs this Chanukah.
And, if you are able, help in supporting organizations that are working towards creating change you believe in.

[1] This quote was brought to my attention by Rabbi Andy Vogel’s weekly torah reflections. Rabbi Vogel is the Rabbi at Temple Sinai of Brookline, where I served as the Youth Educator. Rabbi Vogel is a wonderful mentor of mine.

1 Comment