What Moves You

(Rabbi Lucy HF Dinner – Temple Beth Or - Parshat Lech Lecha – November 11, 2016)

At our Social Action Committee meeting one of the members asked what are you speaking about tomorrow, Rabbi, Lech L’cha?! Lech L’cha, the portion where Abraham answer’s God’s call to go forth, was b’shert to be the Torah portion for this week when the election cycle ended with a watershed moment pouring forth in United States history.

The words of the parasha oddly haunt us after the election. Get up Abraham, go forth from this land of your birth, from all that you have ever known – your neighborhood, your home, the house of your father.

No matter how one voted, it seems, that everyone feels like they have left behind what once was the comfort of home. We are all outside the box after this election. Republican members of our congregation have been feeling left out for a long time, not just since Tuesday. They believe in fiscal and governmental policies that allow the economy to prosper unfettered with overbearing government involvement. They believe in a strong military and the defense of our country. They believe in foreign policy that does not interfere with domestic economics. These are issues of justice, they are pathways to justice and a thriving community. Just as vehemently Democrats believe in fiscal policy that lifts the poorest out of despair, that protects workers from oppressive employment practices, that rejects the exploitation of workers in our country and around the world. These too are avenues to justice and thriving community. Independents believe that their avenues to justice being ignored by both parties, and that they are being held to a higher standard, being asked to sacrifice their own ideals so that their votes don’t take away from this party or that one. Just as in the days of Rabbis Hillel and Shamai, they are all right in the eyes of God.

Why then do those who voted for Trump feel they have to hide their face in our congregation which so often champions human rights? Why then do liberal Jews fear that Trump; who is the first president elect of the United States with Jewish grandchildren, will spark another Holocaust? Why then do Independents believe that they have no avenue to be heard? First, it is not God who declares Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all right (or wrong), as God declared Hillel and Shamai right. In God’s world Hillel and Shamai can both be right, but in the end, in the real world, the ruling has to be in favor of one of them.

Clearly, the whole country: Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, feels like we have been called forth from the safety of our home and away from what is familiar, far from the America we once knew or dreamed of.

Nonetheless, Shabbat is here. The sun has risen and set again and again, post election, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We look around and realize that the supportive community that surrounded us last Shabbat has not vaporized because of the election. Schools and businesses have opened their doors as usual; the mail has been delivered; the walls of our homes have not collapsed; and most importantly the people we count on the most are still right here.

In times of unease it is important to take stock in what we have, to check in with ourselves and then with our family, our neighbors, and community; and acknowledge in a purposeful way that our humanity is intact.

Rabbi Dara Frimmer, of Temple Isaiah, in Los Angelas suggests:

“There’s a mindfulness practice that uses two phrases to help us focus on what is real and true about our lives. When we are still and present, we ask ourselves, without judgment and with a curious mind: “What is this?” What is real and true about my life right now and what is fashioned by my fears? Consider. Breathe. Notice. Then, say aloud: “Don’t know.” Repeat the process. “What is this?” Breathe. Discern. … (and in the end acknowledge) ‘don’t know.”

We cannot know what is to come, but we can discern where we are today. We can be in the presence of the blessings that we have, without knowing what is next. We can build toward the tomorrow that we want to see, even though we don’t know.

From centering self, we move to centering our community. We need not be afraid of each other. This is not the time to abandon community, rather just the opposite. This is the time to gird the community.

Rabbi Zoe Klein, of Temple Isaiah, reminds us of the wise ruler from days of old:

“When God offered King Solomon anything he wished in First Kings 3:9, King Solomon asked for one thing only: “Give me a listening heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

He didn’t ask for might. He didn’t ask for wealth. He didn’t even ask for wisdom. He asked for a listening heart.”

How can each of us be the one with that listening heart? Our Social Action Committee, before they would consider the many issues of justice that are reverberating after this election, asked that question. How can we provide that safe space for people to be heard? How can we listen for each other’s fears, understand each other’s struggles, and acknowledge each other’s victories?

On Tuesday afternoon, long before the polls closed, I sat in a meeting with The Triangle Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee. As we prepared for the upcoming King holiday, we could not ignore the antipathy of this election. And so we set aside our work to address the pressing rift of the day. We resolved that no matter what happened in the election that we had to provide that safe place for people to heal. This Monday night Temple Beth Or will join with peoples of all faiths, parties, and backgrounds at First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street for a service of healing and holding one another’s fears.

The very act of offering a “listening heart” begins the healing. It shatters the isolation for both the speaker and the listener. It seeds the bonds of community. It affirms that we are not alone, and we are not helpless. We hear each other’s words, and lift each other’s hearts.

And finally after we listen both to ourselves and the other we will be fortified and united to respond when it is time to raise our voices. Rabbi Nacham of Bratzlav taught in troubled times centuries ago: “The whole world is one narrow bridge, and the key is not to be afraid.” When the walls seem to be crashing in, when the KKK is cited spreading fear at North Hills Mall, when Swastikas are graffitied on plazas celebrating the election, when African Americans are taunted with chants of “White Lives Matter,” and gays’ lives are threatened, we will be ready. We will rise up to cross that bridge however narrow, unafraid.

There are many roads to bringing healing to the world. Our government provides the platform for us to live as free citizens. American democracy by its very nature is an adversarial system. Doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, on the other hand, is the role of each one of us created in the Divine Image. It is up to us to uphold that Image of God, to protect the freedom of all peoples in a government sworn to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

In closing I share this prayer from the unofficial poet laureate of our movement Rabbi Alden Solovey:


The Preacher Said
Let us pray,
The preacher said,
Let us pray in the name of hope,
In the name of justice,
In the name of truth.

Let us commit to each other,
The preacher said,
Commit in the name of equality,
In the name of righteousness,
And in the name of our children.

Let us take to the streets,
The preacher said,
Let us take to the streets
To make our space,
To claim a place,
For no one race
Can live in grace,
Until we face,
Oppression and hate.

Let us walk,
The preacher said,
Let us walk from Selma to Montgomery,
From oppression to the Promised Land,
From fear to courage,
From silence to action,
From today to the future,
To a place where all people
Will be judged by the content
Of their character,
The humanity of their words,
And the compassion of their deeds.

Stick with love,
The preacher said,
Stick with love
Because love is the only answer.

Stick with love.
Stick with love.

Let us pray,
The preacher said,

Let us pray in the name of hope,
In the name of justice,
In the name of truth.

© 2016 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.

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