Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo

Yesterday, the City of Red Bank, NJ went out on a limb with me. In response to flyers purportedly distributed by the KKK, we went on the offensive. With my partners on the Human Relations Advisory Committee, we launched the “NO HATE AT HOME” campaign. Whether formalized in the hate speech and violence of groups like the Klan or the way in which we now disregard each other’s dignity in our polarized and partisanized everyday parlance, Hate proliferates faster than we can fashion a response, until now. Opening up for conversation every sacred cow in public and community service and discourse, we called on our citizens to participate in the tough, but honest discourse that helps us listen, learn and grow.

If we commit ourselves to honesty, then these conversations will hurt. Each person will feel accused and sometimes, may even deserve the accusations. When, however, we become accustomed to default behaviors that separate us from each other’s dignity, we have to take a step back and face the demons of our own behaviors. Only after some self-examination can we return to the conversation with a clearer perspective, being also better equipped to help our conversation partner better hear and understand. What society often fails to grasp is that we cannot heal on only “my” terms. It has to be mutual, or the wound festers, and any chance of recovery becomes more ethereal and distant.

This week’s Torah portion provides us with an interesting insight into how this process plays out. When, in the natural order of life, life is in a state of equilibrium, systems work. The stars, seasons, air quality, land, air, and sea life are all in sync. As we start messing with nature; as we start genetically and/or chemically modifying/enhancing our food source, polluting our air, land, and waterways, we fall out of favor. I do not believe that God is standing over us with a checklist and marking pen (feel free to disagree), but I do believe that “God’s Way” is the natural order of a universe in sync. Our failure to adhere to the best practices for community engagement available brings about the rebuke. If we pay attention to each other and treat each other with grace, dignity, and love, we earn the blessing. The curse and blessing are not being thrust upon us by an angry or appeased God; they are simply paths and results that we choose as we embark on every journey.

Torah’s main function is to create productive conversations that lead us to holiness. The blessing or the curse of which this week’s Torah portion speaks has little to do with what we get with and from each other and everything to do with what we do (how we grow with) each situation. The blessing results from our intentional work for the good; from our effort to restore relationships to equilibrium. We cannot expect to achieve peace without work, and we cannot expect that we can grow in spirit without sometimes really difficult self-examination. Life only works when the natural balance is in order.

The text reminds us that we get to choose between the blessing and the curse. Nowhere does the text tell us that it will be fun and games. Certainly, some things in life come easy, for some of us. For others, the challenges seem insurmountable.

While we each pray for some sense of a Messianic future (future of peace), we must also realize that just because things are good for me does not necessarily mean that they are good for everyone. We must stand up for ourselves. Even more, we must look past our own privileges and stand up for each other. We know that if we are not both whole, then one day the pendulum will swing and those who have will be without. As the old commercial goes, “You can’t mess with Mother Nature.” Shabbat Shalom and welcome to the Jewish High Holy Days. Selichot (the beginning) is tomorrow night.