Please have a look at last Friday's d'var Torah, as it reflects on my recent journey to Washington for the 1000 Ministers' March.
There are a few verses in Ki Teitzei that don't make a lot of sense, like the prohibition to mix linen and wool, the practice of shatnez. But then there are injunctions that make a lot of sense, like the one that prohibits us from taking eggs from a mother bird while she sits on her nest. The idea is that taking the mother bird's eggs will distress her, and while I am not sure it's much better to take them while she is away from the nest and not looking, I can imagine the loss being less traumatic.
The idea that the bird has feelings, and we ought to care about them is very instructive of the world Deuteronomy summons us to create--a world that shows love and concern for even the smallest creatures; a love and concern that flows from an abiding commitment to justice and compassion; to doing the right thing and caring; making significant that or those we ignore or undervalue or discriminate against. What a meaningful and important backdrop for me to share a word or two about my experience.
On Monday, August 28th, I marched in the 1000 Minister March, sponsored by Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network. 5000 people participated all told: ministers, rabbis, imams, cantors, and lay people--from all over America. We marched on the 54th Anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. We marched for the same things King cared about in that march on Washington: voting rights, criminal justice reform, universal health care, and economic justice. We also marched against racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.
And given that we rallied outside the Department of Justice, we also called out the attorney general and the president on matters from immigration to white supremacy--calling them both and the administration to greater moral vision and leadership.
The day began with enduring Jewish wisdom at a gathering hosted by the Religious Action Center, the social justice arm of the Reform Movement.
Because this march took place during the Jewish month of Elul, we started off with the understanding that we were marching in Jewish time. And Elul is an especially good time for heshbon ha-nefesh, a soul check, not only for ourselves but for our nation, too. The moment emphasized we cannot be bearers of a moral message to our nation unless we look within ourselves, conscious of our own privilege and bias, committed to work on ourselves first before we take on the nation.
Through this, our latest historic time together, the rhetoric soared with references to MLK: "No justice, no peace." Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Jewish teachings inspired the moment, too: "Wake up" in the words of Rambam. Or in 21st century parlance, "Get woke." And, "Pitchu Li: Open the gates of justice." Or, as our Torah teaches us next week, "Don't be indifferent." But among the most honest and personal and compelling things I heard, with all respect to the legacy of Dr. King, our sages and Scripture, was Rabbi Stern's call to bold outward steps with a disciplined inward gaze. Rabbi Stern is the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the same as Rabbis Schaalman, z"l and Levy, z"l once were.
Elul is a time to change direction--not only what's going on around us but also what's going on inside us. Paraphrasing Rabbi Stern, it's a lot easier to say "Oh, Charlottesville is so awful (in terms of the violence and racism) than it is to look at our own individual and collective prejudices (how ever they may manifest). But if we set ourselves right and our effort at turning impacts the world around us, we can, in this season of reversal, change the vector of hate to love; and the vector of injustice to justice; and the vector of degradation to dignity.
Early this September 5th evening (and hopefully with some of you), I head downtown for another rally, this one protesting the Administration's decision to discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While I think we can do serious work to improve our national immigration policies and hope a bipartisan congress will rise to the challenge, I think this decision largely ignores the humanity of the Dreamers, so many of whom have made a viable contribution to our nation. That is unacceptable to me as a Jew. As our Torah teaches: "When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" [19:33-34]. Tradition places our humanity first and foremost, and then we can move to improve the law. As Elie Wiesel, z"l once said: "No human being is illegal."
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!