Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Emor

My tradition teaches that there is no special task or rite in the religion that only a Rabbi can perform. We have made a profession out of the Jewish clergy (Rabbi and Cantor), but that is more to facilitate the operations of a synagogue in a world where our normal lives take us all over the place. Oddly, the only function that rests only on the Cantor and me is performance of a wedding – and that is because of state law. The state grants us special privileges to perform legally binding ceremonies in a religious context, but the officiant has to a recognized leader within of a house of worship or otherwise designated denominational structure. If Cantor or I empower someone into a “ministry” role, then that person is also allowed to perform weddings. Of course, judges, government officials, ship captains, and (in some jurisdictions) even a Notary Public can, as well.

Our nation’s government grew from the ethic of being “by the people for the people.” It, too, supposedly operates in a system wherein elected officials, officers, etc are held to the same standard. No one is above the law in a well-working society. The President and the garbage collector must hold to the same set of rules. Now, we all know that it does not work this way. We know that we exist with people of privilege and lack thereof. We know that economy, education, and opportunity impact people’s access to the resources necessary to grow and thrive in society.

From where does the ethic of equality stem? The Bible repeatedly tells us that one standard exists for all humanity. No one is above the law. No one is beneath our dignity. No one is to be left out. Torah reminds us of this charge for equality, again, this week. Quite literally, Moses speaks to the Priests (on behalf of God) and tells them, “One law shall be exacted for you (the Priest), the stranger (those traveling amongst you) and resident (Israelite) alike, for I am the Lord, your God.” (Lev 24:22)

We know that every act of violence begins when people are insecure of their standing and well-being in a community. This insecurity manifests in the powerful and powerless, alike. Insecurity comes from lack of faith, knowledge, and hope. Where people know and understand themselves and what they believe … and really believe what they say they believe, they don’t need to force their beliefs on other people. Whether it is the current hate-filled screaming matches over gun violence, abortion, immigration, or governance, people have forgotten that the founders of this nation sought to ensure that our conversations should lead us to commonality – even in disagreement, we can respect each other’s humanity.

Our conversations have devolved “into all or nothing” warfare. There has to be a winner and a loser, at the cost of all civility. Pointing out that extremism on any subject is a problem for America, I take lots of abuse. I am okay with that. In each case, I invite people screaming at me for coffee. When I get the opportunity to share time with people, I know that we will find ways to disagree respectfully. It is when people refuse to speak civilly, repeatedly affirming that one extreme position or the other is the only “correct” choice that we risk losing hope for our future.

I always go back to Torah (which for me is never irrelevant) and its demand that we remember we are no better than our neighbor – and no worse. Some are privileged and some need empowerment. Some are able to stand on their own and some need our help in learning to do so. For all the people touting their religion, it seems to me that people forgot that whatever God is or isn’t, our respective scriptural teachings demand that we respect each other and lift each other – every each other. The priest, the resident, the alien; the official, the manager, the homeless; but for single changes in circumstance, we would find our roles reversed.

This week, Torah reminded me that we have to speak out for decency. I spoke at our local mosque’s Jumah two weeks back. In addition to praying for restoration as Ramadan approached, I shared that we are one people with one heart; am echad eem lev echad (Hebrew); sha-eeb wahid biqalbee wahid (Arabic). We need to stop showing up at each other’s events and start showing up in each other’s lives. I am blessed to share the same messages in other synagogues and churches. In each, I remind people that we have made political fodder out of everything we hold sacred. When we put elitism and power first (on either side of any political debate) people have forgotten what is most sacred … each other. Shabbat Shalom.