Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Pinchas

I had an idea for this week’s commentary that revolved around the role of women in the religious traditions of the world. A guy named Tzelophechad died, leaving only daughters. The tribe was going to take his estate and return it to the tribe. The daughters stood before Moses and God and demanded that they get to share in Dad’s estate and carry forward his name. While a most timely topic to share, three things happened this week that forced me to rethink my message.

Last Friday, my father-in-law, Lewis Bernard, Jr. passed. He had a great life and a beautiful death. No, “beautiful” and “death” are not oxymorons. He died on his terms with a lot of love around him. This man welcomed my children into his family and never batted an eye in proclaiming me his “favorite son-in-law.” I was his only son-in-law, but that mattered not.

Wednesday, just after finishing a coffee date with David Applefield, he went to exercise and suffered a fatal heart attack. He just concluded a valiant race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress. We were planning the next phase of change for society just before he died.

Yesterday (Thursday), we commemorated the 17th of Tammuz (Hebrew Calendar reference date), a day remembering both destruction and renewal in our history. According to tradition, Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai, temple sacrifices stopped at the Altar, and Rome breached the walls of Jerusalem’s citadel three weeks before the ultimate destruction of the Temple.

The confluence of these events, the Torah portion, the history, and the lives that have recently transitioned strikes me. Tzelophechad’s passing opened the door for women’s equality. God affirms the daughter’s right to their inheritance and to carrying forward their clan’s name. Despite some parts of the narrow-minded religious world that maintains an aspect of misogyny and male/female hierarchy, our Rabbinic tradition is near uniform in teaching how strongly God sided with them. Female clergy and congregational matriarchs serve as direct spiritual descendants of these brave sisters.

Lew’s passing brought people out of the woodworks demonstrating love and appreciation not only for a loving friend and patriarch but a benefactor of essential causes. I don’t know how many people knew of his work to support inter-religious dialogue and to wrestle with mass incarceration. More people can run with his legacy now, knowing how important it was for a man they held dear.

David did not win this race, but even the incumbent Republican Congressman acknowledged that David brought a new and fresh tenor to the political conversation. His impact already brought new voices into the work of healing. He did not only meet with people who agreed with him. He showed up everywhere. Where people confronted him for being a Democrat, he responded, “Let’s talk about what we share. We are human. We can disagree, but it should never diminish us in each other’s eyes.” His legacy will continue to motivate change.

We then look at the holiday. We mourn the loss of life, dispersion of our people, and destruction of the Temple. At the same time, we acknowledge that this destruction compelled us to fulfill our destiny in faith: L’taken et haolam – the repair of the whole world. No longer focused only on a piece of geography, we took the message of the prophets and the commitment to world healing to the world. The Torah became foundational in Christianity and Islam. One can read the text in nearly every primary language spoken across the globe. The Messianic prophecy of healing roots in a firm belief that “Justice is never JUST US,” and that shalom is not real until peace exists for everyone in the world. Whatever one’s religious tradition, we serve the same God. Whatever one’s biology, we are one race – human.

Even in the destruction, we experience the phoenix. Lives do pass, but legacies continue to teach. The Temple lay in ruins, and yet, Torah and our prophetic teachings continue to stir our souls. Especially in our times of darkness, we remember that we are prisoners of hope. We move through our loss, never passed it. Our loved ones stay with us, and our ties to history continue to teach us. We have a lot of work still to do, but our tradition teaches us that it is not our task to finish the work, but we can never abstain from working toward the solution of peace. We stand blessed for all who walked and worked before us. We must continue to share and grow these blessings.

Shabbat Shalom.