Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Vayikra

As I sat down to prepare for Shabbat, I took stock of some very cool things: 1. A dear friend and family member are both successfully recovering from this week cancer surgery; 2. A terrific young lady celebrates her Bat Mitzvah tonight and tomorrow; 3. Our Sisterhood and Men’s Club get to celebrate their dedication and leadership in our congregational family with a special Shabbat Service; 4. I get to see my daughter dance her solo in competition (the only time I will get to see it this season); 5. Even as we prepare to acknowledge my late first wife’s ninth yahrtzeit this week (on Purim), our family celebrates lots of good news (more on this later) and a lot of love; 6. I have Lori; and 7. I have dedicated partners in progressive change in our lay leadership, our professional staff, and in my partner Cantor Gaby Clissold. At our Passover Seder, we have the song that seems never to end, “Dayaenu.” Literally, it means it would be enough; we recount miracle after miracle with which God blesses us, acknowledging that anyone of them should affirm our faith. How amazing it is that we experience them all! My litany of blessings this week is a lot to take in, and each piece would be enough to say, “Dayaenu,” yet, I have it all.

I open the Torah. This week we open a new book; Leviticus. This week’s portion recounts the litany of different sacrificial offerings about which God instructs Israel. They are not mandatory, but if one does bring offerings, specific rules govern the ritual. Some of these offerings are rooted in atonement and others are part of giving thanks for blessings. All of them, though, culminate in a pleasing odor to God. Getting past the smell of the animals awaiting slaughter (or that of the process of animal slaughter), I look at the instructions allegorically: the goal is to do that which pleases God … that which makes the world a better place. For a moment, I smiled, feeling really good about the way in which my week of blessings synchronized with the ultimate message of the text.

The moment shattered, though, as I leaped back into the real world and read the news. I vowed always make every effort not to be political in my teaching or preaching, but there are times that one person’s politics is another person’s matter of righteousness. As I look at the debacle we currently call a presidential election; I cannot call what is happening politics; certainly not in the sense of the Democratic Republic based values upon which our founders forged this nation’s ethics. I will not go into the details; they play themselves out for all of us every day. I want to address simply the tenor and atmosphere in which we “campaign” to move our nation into tomorrow.

Whatever one thinks of the candidates’ potential, I am downright afraid of candidates asking rally-goers to raise their right hands affirming allegiance, affirming the appropriateness of violence against people exercising their First Amendment Rights, advocating the destruction of entire families of criminals, advocating the bombing of entire communities, affirming racial, religious, and gender discrimination … all as part of campaign platforms. There are enough economic issues up for debate, that to ignore them in favor of fear mongering is … is un-American, and certainly a violation of every faith tradition for which our nation’s Constitution guarantees protection.

So, I look at the amazing blessings in my life and have to believe that each of the candidates running for office has to experience similar miracles in their lives. Why the focus on celebrating these blessings carries less weight in their agendas than does the search for personal power at all costs to all others is one of the absolute saddest of realizations. We have lost perspective. If I truly appreciate my family, how can I want to do anything to hurt someone else’s? If I truly appreciate my freedoms (to pray or not (as my faith would command), to seek education and opportunity and to speak openly), how could I do anything to destroy someone else’s … especially since our founding documents call these rights “Inalienable?” I am tired of these folks telling me how righteous they are while they ignore everything about liberty that I hold as sacred. The Kotzker Rebbe taught, “I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I wantfollowers who are too busy doing good (and appreciating the good) that they won’t have time to do bad.” If we want that of our followers, shouldn’t we expect the same or better from our leaders? Shouldn’t all of our efforts aim at creating pleasantness before God, and for our community? Shabbat Shalom?