Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Teitzei

I have been an activist all of my adult life. Some will call me a flaming liberal. Oddly many others think that I am too traditional. For those who know me, this you will find humorous. People once accused me of being an Orthodox Rabbi trying to force Liberal Jews to become Orthodox. I may certainly lean liberal in these days, but in other generations, my answers and soap box issues might lean to the right. In the end, I am one person who tries to think beyond myself and concentrate on caring for the needs of others around me. I am not always “in touch,” but today is a day that screams off of the pages of history to me.

I have dedicated a great deal of time, love, risk, and energy to the cause of equality in this country and in Israel. I have had amazing teachers and colleagues who have helped me see beyond that which I was capable of seeing before our engagement. While I know how blessed I am to have shared in these experiences, it is mornings like this that a piece of me wishes that I could hide in ignorance.

52 years ago today, thousands of people descended on Washington to hear one the most remembered speeches in history. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “Dream” speech. It is one of the most remembered and misused speeches in history. Dr. King’s dream was not about racial equality. Dr. King spoke about the barriers that keep us from recognizing the dignity and sanctity of life. Just before he gave that speech, Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke. Rabbi Prinz spoke about God’s mandate for righteous equality. He made it clear that this was not a problem for Black America; this was a problem for all America. Our tradition teaches that when one is oppressed, none are free. We also know that the perpetrator and the victim are both victims of hate. That day, Prinz emphasized that the problem in this country was not rooted in the injustices committed upon minorities. The problem was that so many who witnessed those injustices and who intrinsically knew they was wrong said nothing about it. “[B]igotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” When we walk by and see each other in trauma, it is one problem not to understand the problem. It is a far greater sin to see the trauma, understand it and still let it happen.

Torah commands us to come to each other’s aid. This week, we are reminded that if we see our neighbor’s animal in trauma, we must stop and help. Torah does not make this an optional request. All the more so, where our neighbors are in trauma, we must respond; this, too, is not optional. This teaching is not unique to Judaism; it is foundational in every faith tradition of which I have studied. Still, though, we have seen such an increase in violence, in discrimination, in religious manipulation … in all of the things that drive wedges between neighbors. We foster communal responses to trauma that are intolerable to maintain. Even while we know that gun violence is greater in this country than anywhere else in the world, people still want more guns in the streets. The racial divide, the gender-based discrimination, the maltreatment of our senior populations are all the subject of legislation that falls on deaf ears in a world now hell bent on personal gain and power.

I am amazed at how many “anti-gay marriage” politicians changed their minds once someone in their family came out as gay. I am saddened at how many “anti-Obama-care” politicians changed their votes when they had a relative who, though hard working, could not get insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition. I was horrified that it took racially motivated slaughter to make politicians see the danger of the “Confederate Flag.” While we celebrate their enlightenment, it only more deeply proves how deeply our leadership lacks empathy.

If it does not touch our homes, too many of us can hear or read about nightmares in the news, and then go about our business without another thought. This is why there are protests and marches. How unfortunate it is that we have not learned how to care for each other, without needing to have trauma smack us in the face. My dream is that we will not be silent. My dream is that the vast majority of us who feel each other’s pain will act and not watch. We cannot remain silent and expect the world to change holistically on its own accord. There are lots of good people in this country. We just need to do more to exemplify this goodness to help change people’s hearts, and in turn change the way in which we respond to each other. We are responsible for caring for each other. Shabbat Shalom.