Workshops, seminars and courses that inspire full-hearted living

Vayera: Doing What is Right and Just

Well, this is going to be the strangest Thanksgiving in my memory, as we confront an incoming U.S. administration that is trafficking in messages of unprecedented intolerance, division and fear. What am I to do? How am I to respond? How do I maintain a balance between being sufficiently on alert and not fanning the flames of hysteria, my own included? And how do I maintain my open and loving heart, as well?

First, I intend to continue to give thanks, every day, for the gifts of being alive and for the great fortune I have to be surrounded by a loving family and community. Thank you, members and friends of Kehillat Lev Shalem, the Congregation of the Full Heart, for making it possible for me to spend my time and energy on the beautiful and holy work of being a spiritual leader and a teacher of Jewish wisdom. I count my blessings every day.

Second, I intend to treat everyone I meet with a loving heart and countenance, now more than ever. Of course I won’t bat 1,000, but I’m working on it. In addition to the good that this practice helps send out into the world, it also benefits me in that I am able to enjoy life more and feel love flowing in my own self. And I especially want our WJC community to consider our synagogue a sanctuary, a place in which we count on each other not to be harsh or cruel, so that we can feel safe here and restore and strengthen ourselves for the struggles of the big world outside our synagogue walls.

Third, I am gathering information about ways I will be able to stand up for the central Jewish values that appear to be potentially threatened by the positions and appointments that the new administration is signaling. These are values like welcoming the stranger and protecting the powerless, pursuing justice, and caring for God’s creation. I am aware that, if I am to walk my talk and manifest these values, more may be called of me in the public sphere than ever before. I will keep you informed as courses of action take shape, and I welcome information and ideas from any of you, as well.

And as always I look to the Torah for guidance. We are in the midst of the stories about Abraham. In these tales, God continually tests Abraham to ascertain whether Abraham will indeed be a blessing to the world. As one of those tests, God informs Abraham that God is planning to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as they are filled with depravity and wickedness. Abraham then steps up to God and says, “What, will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there are innocent people in those cities?… Far be it from You to do such a thing! Must not the Judge of all the earth do justly?!” (Gen. 18: 23-25)

Abraham is the first Jew, our spiritual founder, because he rises to this test. Abraham is willing to confront even God when he is concerned that God is not living up to the principles of justice and fairness. Abraham sure has chutzpah, a quality that he bequeathed abundantly to his Jewish descendants. But even more importantly, Abraham has an innate sense of justice. One of the reasons the Jewish tradition considers Abraham rather than Noah to be our spiritual founder is that when God tells Noah that God is bringing a flood to destroy the earth, Noah remains silent. Noah simply follows orders and builds the ark. It would appear that in simply following orders Noah is not rising to the test. It appears that God created human beings because God is looking for a counterpart, not a lackey. God is looking for a creature that will confront even the Creator in defense of the good and the right. That person, and his descendants, will become the blessing to the world that God has hoped for.

The message is clear: we are being tested. Will we stand up for the innocent? Will we confront the powerful? Will we act with courage and stand up for tzedakah u’mishpat, for righteousness and justice? If we do, we can claim our mantle as rightful heirs of Abraham, and we too might become a blessing for the peoples of the earth, and for the earth itself. For me, that is one of the central pillars of being a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Thanksgiving, and love,

Rabbi Jonathan