Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Chukat

Laws are meant to serve the best interests of society, and when they fail to do so, they have to change. These last few weeks has brought witness to a world of change. Even out of devastation can emerge the blessings needed for a more healthy … more holy tomorrow.

The shootings in Charleston rocked this country. The racial violence we have witnessed finally boiled over to a point where everyone paid attention. Communities all over this country finally rallied en masse, bringing often segregated lives into each other’s arms. Rallies and vigils gave people the forum to affirm the words we all believe … the words of love and engagement … but which most have never lived in any meaningful way. The demonstrations of love, of sympathy, of empathy that filled village squares and parks, sent a resounding message to the elected officials of our country, “It is time for change.” The “Stars and Bars” flags are coming down throughout the south. The true history of this symbol of hate (a message unknown to even most Southerners) comes to light, and the symbol that oppressed people for so long is finally moving into history. The legacy of the flag that separated us for so many years will now, we pray, be the symbol whose demise returned us from our exile from each other.

Yesterday, we witnessed another banner change in America, as the Supreme Court ensured that we would now stay counted amongst the ranks of nations that make sure their populations have access to health care. It may be time to perfect the plan, but the threat of losing health care does not loom over the heads of our economically challenged anymore.

Today, in one of the most monumental and greatly anticipated moments in history, The Supreme Court affirmed that marriage is a family value for all people. We no longer have to speak of marriage vs. gay marriage! We affirm that the right to marry the partner we love is an inalienable right protected and guaranteed by the highest court in our land. Just yesterday, a lower court affirmed that love did not root in a curable disease. We were born to love, created to love and are only fulfilled in life when we are free to love the person who is our heart’s desire. Any attempt to state otherwise is a fraud upon the people. For all who argued that this opinion would destroy marriage, I suspect that they are still married to whom they want to be. The disdain they showed against people who only want to marry the one whom they love failed to help or heal any piece of our society. Our truth, today, is simple, love is a more powerful driving force than is hate. The driving force of the institution of marriage is love … we now get to express it and live it in even more ways.

The sequence of events makes taking this week’s opening lines literally, increasingly difficult. This week, God gives Moses the “law of the Red Heifer,” a khok olam … a law for all time. The beginning of Chapter 19 of Numbers details the ritual of sacrificing and burning to ash, the red heifer. The ashes are then to be placed outside of the camp so that anyone who comes near a corpse could ritually cleanse himself in the ashes of the burned cow. We do not burn heifers anymore. Some say that we do not because there is no “Temple,“ while others argue that there is no pure red heifer.

Several years back, one was born in Texas, but the Rabbis rejected it. We do still observe the ethic behind the ritual. We need intentional reminders to return from grief and move back into our lives of blessing. We need separation in time. We have followed the teaching of Rav Kook, who taught us that the old must be made new and the new must be made holy. We still need the separation, and now, we do it for and with each other.
Laws are made in time vacuums. Often, though, we find ourselves closing doors we do not even know are open, by making plans and rules without context. “ALL TIME” is a long time. The world continues to evolve, and circumstances continue to change. What made perfect sense today will have very little to do with tomorrow’s reality. Freely, we make these “eternal” rules, “close” the door on opportunities we cannot even imagine, and enslave tomorrow to our today prejudices, insecurities, and ignorance.

We cannot know today, that in which we will find enlightenment tomorrow. The ignorance that blinds us today cannot continue to hold us hostage as our eyes begin to open to greater universal truths. When humanity legislates, we do so in the most shortsighted of ways, for, in truth, that is the best we can do. At the same time, we are commanded to be holy. Holiness calls us to grow in vision, to admit our errors and celebrate our blessings. The laws we create will become archaic, and often unbearable. One eternal law that does stand the test of time is this, “We were born to create miracles for each other; let’s renew this commitment and bring holiness into each other’s lives. We are called to invest our hearts in each other and together build the world that is into the one for which we pray.”

I cannot know what will happen tomorrow. I can know that the pain still searing through the bodies of survivors left behind can find some solace in knowing that the world listened. The world is listening and responding. The world … you and I and everyone else must continue to listen and respond, and bring our hearts closer together in blessing. Shabbat Shalom.