Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -Pinchas
We live in two worlds. Physically, we exist in the material world, that is. Spiritually, we seek to live in a world of peace and righteous justice for which we pray. The reality of this dualism stands firm, transcends religion, and speaks to the yearning of every heart’s truth.
In our world, we live in the struggle between justice and religion. We often fail to see the necessary truths requisite for one to compliment the other – these days, they live in conflict vying for control. Too often, we hear of people trying to impose their sectarian beliefs upon the rights of others who believe differently than they do. Religious power plays become political yardsticks. People act as if God thinks only in line with their myopic view of world serenity. Whether it is a matter of LGBTQ rights, abortion, Sabbath restrictions, proper/improper dress, or regulations on bodily behaviors, when one group decides that the law must reflect their exclusive view of appropriateness – society loses. Even while zealots believe that they serve the will of God, their inability to see past their own narrow horizons serves only to destroy faith. We have never witnessed the merger of sectarian myopia and political power ending in the entire community’s well-being. If the religion in power wains in influence, there exists no room for healing synergies. Any change in religious dogmatic influence can only serve as a wholesale revolution against the existing standards for behavior.
At the same time, governing faithlessly leads us further astray. To argue that nothing matters but the application of behavioral modifying rules and the proliferation of control demeans and dehumanizes the powerful and the frail alike. When power for the sake of power devoid of any moral compass is the primary goal of governance, we set the stage for revolution. The ideology of power ignores the needs of the excluded and downtrodden. The frustration of exclusion festers, and as people become desperate for any protection and voice, violence results. This truth tells the story of every revolution and civil war in history.
This week, our Torah portion tells us that Moses was concerned about Israel’s future leadership. Knowing that he will not be allowed to enter the “Promised Land,” he asks God to name the successor. God instructs Moses to take Joshua and anoint him the next in command. God tells Moses to lay his hand on Joshua’s shoulder and pass the mantel of power.
Moses went one step further. Moses put both hands on his lieutenant’s shoulders. The sages ask why Moses did more than God asked. According to Rav Kook (Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 179-186), Moses understood that God gave power only in the spiritual realm. At the same time, we know from throughout our Biblical and rabbinic tradition that God gave control of the secular world to the world’s people (Judges and legislative councils).
While Joshua would lead us spiritually into the “Promised Land” at God’s request, Moses admonished him not to abandon the need to listen to everyone’s dispute, to rule justly, to care for the widow, the most vulnerable of society, to steward the earth, and ensure the future for everyone – equally. Where the differing tribes saw the world through differing lenses, he (and his successors) had to govern in the well-being of the multitude – even when those in power might disagree. Every time I read this text, I think of an amazing lady, the late Harriett Rose from Lexington, KY. Every Friday night, she would come up and tell me that she hated the new prayer book (now the old one), hated the music, hated my reading Torah on Friday nights, but loved that I did these things because she loved watching the congregation that she spent her life growing continue to thrive. Her dog in the fight was the continued health and vitality of the community.
By employing both hands, this ethos of remembering that the spiritual and the secular had to operate in synch was the charge Moses passed to Joshua. It is the foundation of our messianic hope for healing a fractured world, building the world of peace that sustains and nurtures all life. We must remember that we can and must make personal decisions based on our belief system; we must also respect and acknowledge that others see the world and God through a different lens. If God is everything, then we have no right to impose our beliefs as governing controls on other people. At the same time, it is faith that grounds us in our work to remember that each other’s rights are as sacred as our own. Moses’ hands remind us that both platforms must be in place for peace to reign. Today, 77 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the most sweeping Civil Rights reform since the Civil War into law – 1964 Civil Rights Act. 77 years later, we still haven’t figured out that the law, by itself, will not change the mind or heart. The heart has to do that.