Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah–Acharei Mot

Passover is coming to a close for the year. I always look forward to the holiday: family shows up; friends gather; we get to honor old traditions even as we continue to create new ones. I cannot honestly say that I miss bread, though, after Friday at sundown, I must say I will not miss matzah (too much). My real joy in the holiday happens because of the conversations that we get to have. We can talk about freedom all year, but we do not. We can talk about redemption all year, but we do not. This week, stemming from the service around the Seder table, we spawn a host of conversations that should compel us to think a little more deeply about the blessings we experience … and the same ones that others do not. Sometimes, though, we get so caught up in the freedom vs. oppression conversation that even in religious based conversations, we forget to celebrate that the concept of freedom exists.

Imagine a world wherein everyone feels beholden to serve a master. We find this paradigm used in describing primitive cultures in both the ancient and modern world. Even in the Book of Job, the characters express the need to feed God, lest God throw a tantrum if not satiated every morning. We see glimpses of this paradigm throughout religious tradition. Somehow, a worldwide culture exists proclaiming that God is to be feared. Disasters happen because God is upset. People suffer because God is upset. Conversely, we only succeed because God singled us out for success. The most egregious of these statements comes after a hurricane, when someone (whose house survived) proclaims, “God protected me from the hurricane!” Every house around is destroyed, because God only liked the person speaking. We hear this stuff all the time, and we reject it even as we hear it. Just this week, in my old home state of Kentucky, the new Governor struck funding for disability assistance from the budget, proclaiming that non-profits function best without government influence (meaning money). This same week, he approved an $18 million tax abatement for a “non-profit” religious theme park. Another southern legislator promised to bring her gun to the bathroom in case a transgender person walked in. God deserves special tax benefits that we refuse to disabled Americans. Somehow, though, the paradigm for blaming or acclaiming God for everything that happens persists. People espousing these beliefs behave as if they are enslaved to God.

What I love about Passover is that the story of freedom demands that we discuss our partnership with God in any act of redemption. By extension, knowing that the Bible is an allegory, we understand that disasters happen, but “God was not in the fire,” God was in the response to the fire. Hurricanes and earthquakes happen, but we decide how, if, and when to respond. Freedom is real, and it is a blessing that we create and provide for each other. I do not know how God works in the world (though I absolutely believe we yoke power from this presence), but I do know that if we do not act, God cannot.

Where are the headlines about how God’s empowerment led people to open free medical clinics or restore lives shattered by illness or disaster? Houses of worship have not helped, as the rules and restrictions for who can and cannot attend, speak more to organizational budgets and theological control, than they do providing faithful sanctuaries and conduits for enlightenment. We have demeaned the conversation about faith so far that going to church, synagogue, the mosque, or any meeting place of faith into a chore as opposed to an honor. When I tell people I am a Rabbi, or even that I am religious, the conversation immediately takes on a very weird yoke. I volunteer to help in a school, and immediately people are wary of why a “Rabbi” wants to have influence in/over a school.

As we conclude the Passover holiday, we need to commit ourselves to restoring the celebration of freedom, the celebration of the empowerment that faith can bring all of the community, not just those who try to wield power over even God. Redemption will come when faith leads us to take care of each other, honor each other and secure each other’s sense of shalom. Until then, I fear that we will continue to face the horrible rhetoric of which we daily read, we will continue to hope and pray that the voice of God becomes more Godly, and will continue (I pray) to help each other see the need to open our hearts to more wholesome engagements.