In the evening, November 9th, I attended a peaceful gathering hosted by community organizers People's Action, ONE Northside and MoveOn, a national organization working to bring ordinary people into politics by helping them take meaningful stands. Similar assemblies took place in cities and towns across America. To create a vessel of justice and compassion. A circle of support for those of us hurt and bewildered--partially by an election's painful results but more so, I think, by the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, the ableism, and last but not least, the anti-Semitism tolerated, if not nurtured, by it's victor and many of his electors (their legitimate economic concerns and genuine sense of political isolation notwithstanding).
In our local expression, at the People's Church on Lawrence Avenue, I found great inspiration. We prayed. We cried. We opened our hearts. We shared our fears. We named our pain. We summoned our resilience. Most importantly, we resolved to fight back. Until President-elect Trump makes things right. Until we, as Americans, come together to build the future that sustains the dignity of all.
While my rabbinic responsibilities called me away before I could make the following prayer, I offer it now:
Continue to endow us as a force for good here in Chicago and America, too.
Let us build bridges not walls.
Let us sow seeds of love not hate.
Let us pursue peace not violence.
Let us seek light not darkness.
Let us stand up for justice.
Let us be kind.
Inspire us and our leaders with the understanding that we are all created in God's image and, therefore, are full of intrinsic worth--ALL of us. And, let us collaborate as such.
And, may we go forward into this uncertain time with hope, faith, resilience and courage. And may God bless us all and our nation, too.
Last Shabbat morning, I offered a d'var Torah, which bears particular relevance now that we move forward from the election. We can use some Torah wisdom to assuage the fears we may feel today, post-election. We can use a compelling lesson in leadership. An edited version follows....
Noah was a tzaddik, a righteous man. Blameless in his age. And, Noah walked with God. Now, according to the midrashic sage Rabbi Judah, Noah was blameless in his own age, but had he lived in a future generation, he would not have been so blameless. And, as Torah indicates, Noah walked with God. However, Abraham, also a tzaddik, gets higher praise for walking before God.
Now, it happens that both Noah and Abraham live in corrupt, evil societies. And, both have a calling to do something about it. Noah builds an ark to save himself, his family and some animals from pending doom. Abraham, on the other hand, argues before God on behalf of the innocent, and in so doing, saves lives by changing God's mind.
Two righteous men, and yet Abraham always gets more credit. So the question is why? The real difference, according to Rabbi Judah, is the difference between a King (God) who invites his lost friend to walk with him (Noah) and a King who himself is lost and whose friend (Abraham) is invited to walk in front of him to show him the way--indicating that sometimes God has a need for a human helper. The same God but radically different in each tzaddik's eyes. To Noah. God seems omniscient and all-powerful. To Abraham, perhaps God is not so all-knowing and omnipotent.
That being said, while God's recognition of human partnership as an enduring value is crucial to divine maturation and our accompanying Jewish purpose, it's not the whole story. Both Noah and Abraham show readiness to act on God's will. But, Abraham ends up doing more than acting on God's will. Or, he resists doing so blindly. In his resistance, Abraham shows a willingness to engage God in debate over decisions that would adversely affect innocent people. He steps outside himself, beyond any self-interest, and shows courage to challenge God's perspectives, which contradict his own. In his resistance, Abraham grows. In embracing Abraham's resistance, God grows. And, like Abraham and God's relationship, ours, too, can be mutually dynamic when we listen to one another, even when we disagree. When we connect to each other's anxiety and pain, even when we don't see eye-to-eye. When we recognize in one another the notion that we are created betzelem Elohim, in God's image, and therefore possess equal and intrinsic worth and that we need each other to make our collective reality more whole and more shared.
And so the examples of Noah and Abraham reveal to us that, in our own lives, we have different ways we can conduct our lives. We can be good, plain and simply, like Noah. Taking care of our families and ourselves. Not hurting anyone else. And, doing God's bidding without too many questions. Or, we can be like Abraham and take the lead. Pursuing passionately what is right. And, what is just. Even if doing so puts us at odds with God and others with whom we disagree. And, of course, we can fall somewhere in between. But today calls us not to sit back but to step up, more like Abraham. Less like Noah. Beyond ourselves. Beyond our self-interest. Beyond our own comfort. Beyond our personal redemption.
As we experience this Lekh Lekha moment. As we move forward into uncertainty. Seeking blessing. Seeking healing. May we, with respect and civility and the spirit of a tzaddik like Abraham, challenge our leaders and each other. May we remind one another of the shared values we hold as a nation, even as we may practice these values differently. And, may we give no sanction to the bigotries that divide and humiliate us. May we possess the mentschlikeit to listen and learn and grow together in dynamic mutuality. And, may we all remain open to the kind of transformation that flows from open-minded encounter, the sharing of deep, personal narrative, and the recognition that God has enough love for us all. God bless us and our leaders. God bless America and the world. Shabbat shalom!
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!
Zie gezunt (Be well):
Rabbi Craig Marantz