Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–T’tzaveh

What a week. In addition to hospital visits, counseling sessions, meetings, and the normal Rabbi job thing, I participated in an incredible day of healing and sharing at Rutgers University on Sunday (The 10th Annual Prophet Muhammad Day). Wednesday, I got to rehearse a very funny Purim Shpiel that I wrote for our 7thgrade (See it Sunday morning!). Last night, I had the privilege of speaking at Shilo Baptist Church in Trenton, on a program with Rev. Dr. William Barber of North Carolina (the driving force of the Civil Rights movement in America … and the most amazing speaker I have ever been with). Now, It is Shabbat. Now I get to rest … except for leading services, a Bat Mitzvah, then everything Purim, a program at our sister Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury, and then a planning meeting for the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition.

Torah teaches us, “Uv’charta b’chayim – Choose life!” As I looked at my calendar with a friend, he remarked, “You wouldn’t have it any other way!” He was right. I am so incredibly blessed to be involved and have meaningful people with whom I get to share so much. And, now is the time for us to share in this blessing. We stay busy for one of two reasons: We want to dive in to change the world or, we want to avoid it.

Most tragically, the news out in the world is frightening, and it seems to taint every conversation. You cannot go to the gym, the barber, a restaurant … anywhere, without confronting the noise. Even in a conversation about love and community, one cannot avoid the fact that it is beyond ugly and getting uglier. People are angry and frustrated; hurt and numb. We have justification to be angry. There are people in power (both parties) who care more for their position than for their constituents. For example: we watched in amazement how neither party addressed the dismantling of the voting rights act or the closures of almost 200 voting polls … most in predominantly minority districts, and then got mad because people did not vote. Politics seeks to dismantle the strategies and laws that have cleaned our air; fed our poor; educated our masses; and provided spiritual emotional and physical shelter from some of life’s harshest storms. The doors fling wide open for violence and hate to reign over our streets.

When (in the Book of Daniel) Shadrach, Mishak, and Abendigo refused to bow to Nebuchdnezzar, the king threw them into the furnace. By faith, they sustained the fire. Because of their faith, the world changed. They refused to bow and even in the midst of the fire; they stood up. Despite the madness out there screaming for the poor, oppressed, and all of the others to bow down and capitulate, people are standing tall. People are showing up in each other’s lives in incredible ways, and over thresholds, we might never have traversed. The labels of religion and culture that have traditionally separated us no longer matter in this common quest for morality and decency.

This weekend is Purim. This is a day we when costumes and masks. The intent of the day is to level the playing field. There are no rich or poor; powerful or weak. Our reality, though is that the day mocks us. While we pretend to dress up this one day a year, we do, in fact, wear masks every day. Every day, we dress up in some costume and pretend to be someone else. Whether we are battling emotional issues, dealing with incredible stress, afraid or ashamed, we all pretend, at some level, to be someone we are not. Our greatest spiritual challenge happens when we begin weaving our “assumed” persona into our real one. Too often, we find that the “fake” story gets so interwoven into our real story that we lose sight of even our own authentic selves and our ability to separate them. We then find ourselves at relationship ending odds with each other over holding different opinions on any given subject. We extinguish the flame that kindles warmth between us over the most superficial of matters.

As part of the Prophet Muhammad celebration last week, I commented that I had the secret to peace between Muslims and Jews. Every one of agrees on one thing. We all like hummus. After the laughter subsided, I said, “Seriously, we are talking about the stuff — food, air, water, security — that sustains life. We take the miracle of sustenance for granted and use the strength it gives us to beat each other into degradation. What if we focused on the miracle of sustaining each other, instead.” I got applause after this comment, so I think it resonated well.

This week’s Torah portion commands us to light and keep lit, the ner tamid. This light shines over our ark in every Jewish sanctuary and reminds us of the fire on the altar that never went out. As long as the light is lit, God is on duty, and we have to pay attention to the miracles God brings into our lives. I don’t care what you believe, you are that light, and I am that light. We have an obligation to keep both lights lit. To do so, we are going to have to rethink some of the choices we make about each other’s dignity. Shabbat Shalom.

We bear witness to the vandalism of Jewish Cemeteries and the bomb and terroristic threats on Jewish institutions.

We bear witness to the burning of mosques and the harassment of Muslims in America.

We bear witness to the violence inflicted upon our minority populations.

We bear witness to the community destroying finger pointing that accuses innocent and guilty alike for the pain felt because of the growing and unanswered violence that plagues our nation.

Torah mandates that we respond and bring people together in prayer and support of our common dream for peace and equality.

Join us at
Monmouth Reform Temple
for a Prayer Vigil
Monday night, March 13 at 7:00 PM.

We welcome the community to come together to pray and share grace and support as people of faith from a spectrum of religious traditions. We will speak to our common hope for love and dignity. We will not speak to political rhetoric. Representatives of a variety of faith traditions will help move us, as one people, in the direction of greater awareness, greater participation in each other’s lives, and a greater sense of the urgency to support each other.
Our goal is to create space to build relationships and empathy for each other. Our goal is to help all involved bear witness to each other’s dignity and humanity.