Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Sh’lach L’cha

I sat down to write this week’s commentary, and I struggled with how Torah might help me through this week. Batman died this week. Adam West will always be Batman to me; he passed away. Batman is so Jewish. He has no super powers and yet the strength of his faith saw him through the scariest of traumas. He had the courage to battle even Superman. He had the ability to overcome the most horrific memories (watching his parents’ murder) to lead the fight for justice and righteousness. Of all the superheroes (many created by Jewish writers), Batman was the real deal. He represents the great values that we teach from Torah. In the worst of situations, he remained a prisoner of hope. He worked with the police and the public to ensure public safety. Rich or poor, he had your back.
And then a Congressman was shot; shot preparing for an intra-congressional baseball game: perhaps the most bi-partisan friendly thing on our nation’s agenda. Oddly, Congressman Steve Scalise possesses one of the loudest voices against gun control in Congress. Did you know that there were shooting deaths in San Francisco, Columbus, and Memphis that same day? Why does the Congressman who fought to allow his shooter to have the gun get more press than the innocent victims shot by the guns he wanted to allow freely on the streets? Where is Batman?

This same week, the New York Times opened the debate on clergy and politics. The Johnson Amendment (tax code law) keeps a non-profit house of worship from participating in partisan politics. It is tough because everything has become political these days. And, because it is all political, partisanship took hold of the respective sides on every issue. I struggle to understand how a woman’s body is subject to a political vote or how partisan politics governs the environmental crisis. We spend so much time politically debating the science of the climate (I know that sounds silly) that we cannot even agree that breathing clean air, eating uncontaminated food, and having clean beaches, lakes, and rivers are necessary for our enjoyment of life. Safety from gun violence, racism (and all bigotry), safe living conditions, and care for the needy are all moral values about which faith has loads to say but to mention any of them from the pulpit puts clergy employment at risk. Then when we give nice “love each other and play nice” sermons, we gain derision for being irrelevant. How can we be the prophetic voice of justice and righteousness, and still avoid being political? Partisanship in a house of worship is abhorrent, except that sometimes the partisanship (both sides of the aisle) violates or risks violation of the moral values we hold so dear. Where is Batman?

This week’s Torah portion screams at me. God provides the people of Israel with an opportunity for the most incredible of blessings. Israel is about to inherit the land of milk and honey; a land that will provide for their every want … way more luscious than their basic needs. Having been enslaved for generations, they reject the blessings and turn on each other. They suffer horrific losses in a war that never should have happened and then find themselves again exiled from the land for another forty years. A new generation must rise; a generation born into freedom must come forth and teach us … lead us into the blessing. To what was Israel enslaved? We suffered at the hands of power mongering, the exertion of control for the sake of control. Pharaoh feared losing control, sitting, as if he were a god, he slew the dignity and soul of every Israelite. Israel was also enslaved to its own lack of faith. Having been beaten for 400 years, Israel lived as if it somehow deserved the punishment Pharaoh eagerly dished out.

How different are we? We ceded power to elected officials who hold no accountability to the people who elected them. We allow them to keep us afraid and subdued. We join in their power mongering coming at each other’s throats and in effect supporting the very people who don’t want to hear from us or meet with us. We enslave ourselves to the rhetoric and have forgotten how to engage each other in civil, meaningful, and engaging ways. We used to look to our clergy for, at a minimum, the entry points into moral and ethical conversations. Yes, some are clearly partisan, instructing partisan voting from the pulpit. Most of us just want to be able to break the chains that hold ethical and moral mandates captive. We want to mold a generation free from the madness of hate that currently flows as if it were the very blood that keeps our bodies alive … until it flows through the streets destroying the very lives we hold sacred. I have to wonder how the congressman feels about guns, now. Where is Batman?

My colleagues, Rabbis David Wolpe and Rick Jacobs, are in the press arguing for and against being political on the pulpit. They are both right. We should not deal with politics on the pulpit, but the matters of righteousness that have devolved to politics must ring from every pulpit in this nation. These should not be political matters, and as Pirke Avot teaches us, “If not now, when.” Do we wait until we are exiled permanently from the “land” and from each other? Do we wait until we have destroyed so much about what we cherish in this country that we have no country left to cherish? In every instance, we must be Joshua and Caleb who admonished Israel to move into the blessings of freedom. We must reject the fear mongering of the other ten spies that caused the destruction of so many lives and the aimless wandering our people endured for generations to come. Where is Batman? I pray … Shabbat Shalom.