Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Va-et’chanan

I am getting ready to attend my 40th high school reunion in about two months. Being 58 did not seem “old” until I realized that I finished high school four decades ago. In so many ways, they seem to have just blown by. When talking to old classmates recently located on social media, we start getting lost in nostalgia as we plan to see each other. Somewhere along the way, we start speaking about all that happened since and receive that wake-up call that makes us question whether or not we really ever paid attention to each other. Back then, it seems as though we all had so much in common. In a language of almost solidarity, we turned our tassels at graduation pledging to be Valley Vikings, forever.

Of course, we then all went our separate ways. Over the course of these 40 years, life has tossed us in all different directions. I am alarmed at the number of classmates who have left their earthly course. I am also somewhat amused, disturbed, concerned, thrilled, confused, and delighted at the twists and turns we have all traveled. The bully who has gone around apologizing to everyone after he came terms with his own situation, the “stoners” who are now conservative politicians, and the “most likely to succeed (or fail)” who are in polar opposite worlds from anything we could have imagined. The folks who hear that I am a Rabbi find the prospect hysterical (of course, there are days I still do, as well).

The innocence with which we left high school is gone. Looking back, the signs of all the things we now know or dismiss were there. Even as our classes, organizations, teams and friend groups seemed integrated and normal back then, we have the experience now, to know better. Racism was alive and well. We had an annual race riot that lasted a week. Coaches refused to let anyone who participated play. Men objectified women. Locker room talk was never appropriate, but it was rampant and sometimes ugly. As a Jew, I was the other in several situations. A friend accused me of bullying him because I objected to a graduation prayer that was going to be uniquely Christian … excluding all others from God that day. Somehow, though, with all of these very real stories, we celebrated sharing the pride of being Valley Vikings, forever.

Through all this reminiscence and perspectivization (is that a word?), I look at some our conversations now and have had to remind myself that there is a place in our lives where we did share so much, and even with the struggles, we found celebration in each other’s arms over the course of our four years. Certainly now, as this nation has polarized so many of us, I believe we need to think back to a time when the differences between what we believed and where we came from did not stop most of us from appreciating each other as human beings.

This week’s Torah portion includes a “retelling” of the “10 Commandments.” I always think of how they complement each other, teaching general precepts that transcend religion. Each speaks about sacred relationships; the way in which we are supposed to dignify each other. As I think about it, we have a lot of folks who push their own understanding of these commandments on each other, ignoring that this “push” only demeans each other’s dignity. The people who, in the name of God, now justify dismissing other people just don’t get it. Going back to school, we were, in all of our diversity, all Valley Vikings. It would be unthinkable to tell anyone from our group that they no longer qualify. Students transferred in, some citizen, some not, but each became part of our class “family.” No differently, our nation belongs to all of us, and by “us” I mean everybody. The National framers officially amended the United States Constitution to state that the inalienable rights included in the Bill of Rights get guaranteed for all people, not just all citizens or properly documents immigrants. I fail to see how so many people can quote the “10 Commandments” and then be okay tearing apart each other’s dignity.

Remember the command, “THOU SHALL NOT TAKE GOD’S NAME IN VAIN?” How can someone claim to honor the God of love, and rip apart another human being also created by God, and claim that this is love? No wonder religion gets a bad rap. It’s time for us to be more faithful. It’s time for us to show a whole lot more love … for everybody, not just with those who agree with us. Shabbat Shalom.