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There will be an intenstive effort this year by Abraham’s Table, our county’s interfaith group, to reinforce the idea of “Beloved Community,” as envisioned in the writing and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. The weekend of January 13-16 will be devoted to this focus. Please be on the lookout for programming planned for this weekend.
I am honored to represent a Jewish voice among these scores of synagogues churches, mosques and organizations that are reaffirming our commitment, as racism and antisemitism are rising, to condemn it and to proclaim loudly that such notions must be vociferously countered.
In our Torah portion read in synagogues this week, we read for the first time this year from the Book of Exodus. And we are introduced to Moses. But before he is born, the midwives, Shifra and Puah, are instructed by Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew baby boys on the birthing stone. They refuse to do so. In their refusal, they are rewarded by God, called God fearers( Yirei Elohim), given houses, and protected from harm. Nechama Leibowitz, a famous contemporary scholar of the Torah asks, what it is that makes them “God fearers?” It is the quality of listening to and obeying God, the highest authority, in Whose image all of us are made, rather than listening to any human authority, no matter how powerful, to harm another.
Because, you see, Fearers of God ascribe to the cardinal idea that He made us in His image. Here is what the Mishna, an early Legal code from about 2000 years ago, says: God is not like the average flesh and blood coin minter. When God makes us in His image, he uses the same mold, and yet each of us is unique… and, ala Rabbi Itz Greenberg, we are therefore entitled to the following value: Each of us like God has infinite worth. Each of us are, in God’s eyes, equal in that infinite worth. And each of us is unique. And just as that is so for individuals, so it is for our collectives, our motley rich array of groups, religions, ethnicities and races. Fearer of God holds this principle as foundational.
And thus we see further in Leviticus, don’t put a stumbling block before the blind, fear God. Don’t curse the deaf, fear God. Stand up and honor the elder, fear God. All of these groups are disabled and vulnerable, and who would know if we exploit or abuse them? The blind won’t see who did it, the deaf won’t hear who said it, the elder is too weak to fight you if you knock her down and grab her purse. And the answer is “fear God.” You may think no one notices and no one is holding you accountable–you’d be wrong–,I’m there. I, God am watching, and don’t mess with me.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter, of blessed memory, once related a teaching. There are three Hebrew words that express the meaning of “fear.” The first, Pachad, is a sharp acute fear, like a knife which is ‘sharp here’– po chad. The second is Eima, which is a kind of undiffentiated anxiety–ei ma–where, what? The third is Yirah fear, but that word can also be Yireh–God will see, like the latin “spectus,” as in spectacles–fear in this sense is connected to the word “re-spect.” You might think that you can get away with treating vulnerable person as less than precious and that no one is watching, but think again. God is watching, is devastated by such a violation of human preciousness, and in this matter God holds all of us accountable.
May we, like the midwives, have the chutzpah– the courage, to defy temporal authorities, demagogues, influencers, and corrupt social conventions that try to steer us into belittling other groups and other individuals who are different than we are and are the most vulnerable. May we remember the words of MLK Jr., our modern-day prophet, who told us otherwise:
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." But like Congressman Lewis would remind us, only if we do the bending.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This weekend as a “beloved community”, let’s get busy loving one another!