In the service of 7 May I used an excerpt from a text by the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943).
Weil is an inspiration for the way she combines her religiosity with very concrete political actions. In this, she touches on some of the central values in liberal Judaism, though Weil’s determination is of a unique kind. It makes her thought so exceptional, but also difficult. Her writing needs to be read slowly and more than once.
What strikes me in the excerpt I have included, is that she holds that there is something in any human being that expects the good from people. This she calls ‘the sacred’ in every human. It is often silenced in those who are powerless. They don’t have words to express injustice being done to them. Their words sound irrelevant, or shrill, or they stumble when they speak. Weil’s text presents a powerful warning against not being swayed by suave words, but also an appeal to listen to uncomfortable or halting speech.
Lastly, as I have to concentrate on work for the college and other responsibilities, I shall have to reduce my contributions to NLJC’s wonderful newsletter. So, you will not see ’From the Student Rabbi’ every month, but I aim to keep contributing from time to time.
The excerpt – I hope it will speak to you too.
From Simone Weil, ‘The Person and the Sacred’
At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being.
Every time that there arises from the depth of a human heart the childish cry … ‘Why am I being hurt?’, then there is certainly injustice. For if, as often happens, it is only the result of a misunderstanding, then the injustice consists in the inadequacy of the explanation.
In those who may have suffered too many blows, in slaves for example, that place in the heart from which the infliction of evil evokes a cry of surprise may seem to be dead. But it is never quite dead; it is simply unable to cry out anymore. It has sunk into a state of dumb and ceaseless lamentation.
And even in those who still have the power to cry out, the cry hardly ever expresses itself, either inwardly or outwardly, in coherent language. Usually, the words through which it seeks expression are quite irrelevant.
That is all the more inevitable because those who most often have occasion to feel that evil is being done to them are those who are least trained in the art of speech. Nothing, for example, is more frightful that to see some poor wretch in the police court stammering before a magistrate who keeps up an elegant flow of witticisms.
Apart from the intelligence, the only human faculty which has an interest in public freedom of expression is that point in the heart which cries out against evil. But as it cannot express itself, freedom is of little use to it. What is first needed is a system of public education capable of providing it, so far as is possible, with means of expression; and next, a regime in which the public freedom of expression is characterised not so much by freedom of expression as by an attentive silence in which this faint and inept cry can make itself heard; and finally, institutions are needed of a sort which will, so far as is possible, put power into the hands of men who are able and anxious to hear and understand it.
The full text is available here, under a different title: https://lib.tcu.edu/staff/bellinger/rel-viol/Weil.pdf
Dr. Hannah M. Altorf