No matter whom we voted for, each of us can feel that our country is dangerously divided. And, as we become increasingly aware of just how many groups and individuals are hurting and feeling disenfranchised, we are also dealing with the hateful voices that are taking advantage of the shock and pain that so many Americans are feeling right now.
As this morning’s meeting drew closer, I have been struggling to find the right words. There’s nothing that I can say that will make us feel better about what’s going on in our country and in our communities. In the past couple weeks, we have seen clearly that our small towns are not immune to the hateful, racist, Islamophobic, and antisemitic language that has shown up in communities across this country. Congregants have reached out to me repeatedly to share that they are scared because our national discourse is so filled with hate. And, I agree. I feel the same way.
This past Friday afternoon, I found myself feeling overwhelmed and unoptimistic. I decided to come to Temple a couple of hours before services so that I could have time to turn off the news and open my chumash, my copy of the Torah.
As it so often does, the time I spent studying the Torah portion helped me shift from paralysis to action, from feeling fearful to motivated.
There is one particular scene that helped me shake off my sense of shock and filled me with ruach, with spirit. In last week’s parashah, Va-yera, Abraham learns about God’s plan to destroy the city of Sodom, and instead of running away with the rest of his traveling companions, he draws closer to God. He plants his feet and raises loud and strenuous objections to God’s plan. He argues and negotiates with God, and he holds God accountable by reminding God that the judge of the world should be beyond reproach. The rabbis point to this encounter between Abraham and God when they explain why Abraham was chosen to be the first Israelite. They contrast Abraham’s impassioned response with that of Noah. Noah, whom the Torah labels as “righteous in his generation” never thinks to stand up for anyone else. Once he is assured that he and his family will survive, Noah is content to allow others to be washed away by the flood.
Compare that with Abraham, who even after being roughly treated by the inhabitants of Sodom, argues against the city’s destruction because good people could be punished along with the wicked. Abraham, the advocate, the ally, is unlike Noah in that he is not simply the best of troubled generation, he is a righteous man no matter what group he is compared to.
We have the ability to be righteous people. We have the ability to respond to injustice like Abraham did. This is the antidote to feeling scared and overwhelmed. We are going to stand up. We are going to stand together.
We will be vigilant. And if we see injustice, we will not hesitate to object- no matter how much power the unjust force has. We will not be like Noah, who followed God’s commandments but was unable (or unwilling) to stand in front of and argue in favor of others who were more vulnerable.
We will teach our children that living Jewish lives means never shying away from asking the tough questions even when others do not.
We will pray with our feet, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said. Our values will remind us that we are responsible for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. We will remember that our story has more often been one of the underdog than that the victor. We will find motivation in the fact that every spring we sit around our tables and tell the next generation that our fathers were wandering Arameans.
We will reach out to our neighbors and friends who are Muslim and offer our support and our promise to stand with them. We will accept the strength that our friends offer us, and we will trust that we will be stronger together.
We will stand up against hateful speech no matter where we hear or see it- at football games, on sidewalks, or anywhere else. We will be like Abraham, and we will stand in front of and with those who do not feel safe.
We will continue to live and to fight for what we believe is right. We will celebrate with families as they experience joyous events, and we will comfort those who are struggling. We will hold onto one another, and we will help each other live rich and meaningful lives.
We will be like Abraham, and even though we do not know what the future holds, we will trust that we will have the opportunity to be blessings.
Temple B’nai Chaim