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Rabbi Weinberg's Friday Evening Drasha January 8, 2021

01/10/2021 11:22:31 AM

Jan10

Dear haverim,

I shared the following words with the congregation this past Friday night at our Shabbat service.  The week that was terribly difficult for so many of us, and I attempted to add some perspective to what we saw and experienced as a country.  May we find the courage to move forward, making wise choices as we strive to leave our mark on the legacy of this extraordinary country that has been our home for the past 245 years.

Shavua tov,

Rabbi Stefan J Weinberg

I have been a rabbi for 36 and a half years.  I have never used this or any other pulpit for political purposes.   I consider myself an independent with certain leanings that have always reflected my personal politics.  I have always tried to defend you, respect you, and honor you with the way in which I conduct myself as your rabbi. 

Now, I am preparing to share a few thoughts with you, my congregation regarding the shocking moments that unfolded on the Capitol of our nation this week.  I have defended this country, both parties, and our constitution throughout my rabbinate.  I have tried to challenge us to improve our ways, and overcome our imperfections.  Yet, I stand before you ready to address a moment that repulsed so many people in our country this past week and I have to worry about every other word I am using. 

Something is terribly wrong.  Most rabbis and preachers in this country at this time would echo my sentiments.  We are unable to speak openly and freely with each other anymore.  We have developed litmus tests for those who might be entitled to be called our friends.  We, as an American people have developed such thin skin.  We struggle to have an honest debate, to listen to one another, to comprehend another point of view, and accept our differences.  I wonder, are we scared to be wrong, and, so, many of us shout or belittle our way to victory…we think.

Tomorrow morning, we begin to read one of the premier stories of the human experience.  No book in the Bible, or any other literature for that matter has had a greater impact on the journey of mankind throughout history.  Anchoring this text describing the Israelites’ plight and subsequent plea for freedom is the Ten Commandments.  The bedrock of civilization, in a few weeks we will re-read the text that has guided us and championed our efforts to be ideal citizens, to appoint judges who are fair and demonstrate the highest degree of discretion, to pursue peace when others would do otherwise, to love our neighbor, to welcome the disenfranchised, to deepen our roots in the land of Israel.  We cannot afford to lose sight of these exceptional values that continue to define our mission on earth.

I want to tell you what I witnessed a couple of days ago in our nation’s, Capitol.  I saw a large mob of emboldened, angry, entitled citizens- among them right wing extremists, racists and anti-Semites- incited by the very leader who should have subdued them instead of appealing to the basest of human urges.  I saw them break into our Congressional precinct with no regard for its national sanctity, rummaging and desecrating without respect, taking what they pleased without regard to the hallowed ground on which they tread. 

I don’t understand.  It makes me think about Hitler’s rise to power, and Rabin’s assassination.  Demagoguery, appealing to the masses with spell-binding rhetoric… we know the results so very well.  Did you see what so many of those mobsters were wearing?  T-shirts that exhibited nothing but hate for Jewish people.  Underneath their facades- another expression of cowardly behavior- were the t-shirts proudly bearing the phrase- 6mwe.  I had never heard of such a thing- it stands for 6 Million Wasn’t Enough.   Other T- shirts stated, ‘Auschwitz makes one free!’  Listen to the words the philosopher Voltaire penned while considering the actions of mankind, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  Words coined 200 years before the Shoah!

Now, please I know there are plenty of anti-semites who ally themselves with the Democratic party and who will continue to cause Israel nothing but angst.  I know that nothing takes place in a vacuum.   So many of us seem to have simple answers to difficult questions.  We admire simplicity.  Mobs thrive on black and white answers to complicated concerns.  And, Jews rarely are on the winning side when a mob mentality takes to the streets.

I am proud that our Vice President stood up to the President of the United States a few days ago but where was his backbone eight weeks ago when the President began this outrageous charade suggesting he had won the election.  Mitch McConnell gave a wonderful speech before the proceedings began on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon but he was right there flaming the fires of the disbelievers when judge after judge- appointed by both parties- denied any attempt to overturn the election results because there was no evidence to do so.  When this presidency finally comes to a close, I will never be able to expunge the memory of 126 members of the GOP supporting the specious lawsuit introduced by the Attorney General of Texas who claimed this was a rigged election.   I wish our leaders had made the difficult choices needed to promote the values upon which our country used to stand. 

Wednesday afternoon will be remembered as a ‘day of infamy,’ like Pearl Harbor- nearly 70 years ago!  In this case, we needed no outside force to embarrass us.  We managed all by ourselves.  But, we must remember- I believe there is no other time in history when the following occurred.  The hallways of a country’s democratic government were invaded by insurrectionists.  The mobsters were repelled within hours.  Despite fear and finger-pointing, the governing body reconvened that very same day to complete the election process, precisely as the constitutional document dictates.  Order was restored and democracy was maintained.  I was never so proud as to hear the amazing set of speeches delivered from the floor of Congress following the attempted coup, representing our best voices, our most thoughtful individuals from both sides of the aisle who want to restore dignity and leadership to the halls of Congress. 

I urge us all.  We need to take a step back.  The world is not going to come to an end if our candidate loses.  The Supreme Court has weathered plenty of difficult periods of time throughout its history.  How many times have we recently seen judges adjudicate fairly and not as expected based upon their political appointments?  Why have we become so combative?  Why do we think our set of difficulties surpasses any time of constraint in history? 

Please, rhetoric matters.  Tone it down.  Let’s get back to the business of building neighborhoods that reflect our values.  Let’s acknowledge there is far too much injustice on our streets.  This pandemic has exacerbated the wealth discrepancy in our country.  We, Jews have always had a soft spot for the underprivileged.  We, Jews have always imagined a better way to address those who need our assistance.  We, Jews never turned our backs on those who needed our presence.  We have to re-orient ourselves.  We have to regain our bearings.  We have to retain a recognition that what is happening on our streets is unacceptable and there isn’t one simple answer.  We have to share responsibility.  We have to own our world.  We have to demonstrate to each other that we can work together to rebuild America the Beautiful. 

Power can and does corrupt.  Yet, we come from a tradition that reminds us that the voice of conscience, the voice of God demands that we demonstrate loving kindness, and respect towards our fellow human beings.  Our Jewish prophets urged us to see the spark of the divine in every human being, not just those who have been fortunate to enjoy material success in life.  We may not be required to support a redistribution of wealth but we are expected by our code of ethics to acknowledge inequity when we see it.  We used to be on the front lines of social justice.  We used to demand that our society reflect the finest set of values we could imagine.  We are selling ourselves short too often today.  There are too many instances of indiscretion that do not beckon our attention. 

Anshai Torah connotes a “k’hillah k’doshah- a sanctified community.”  I have said before- walk into most Reform Temples across this country and it seems that 90 percent of the attendees vote Democratic.  Enter the Eruv defining a traditional Orthodox community and it appears that 95 percent vote Republican. Where do the two worlds meet?  In some Conservative congregations.  We are one of those precious locations.  We, are where the two worlds converge, where communication could be possible, where we should learn to wrestle with each other’s ideas in the safe sanctuary of our shul. 

Let us make that our distinction.  Let us learn to acknowledge there is much to be learned from both points of view.  Let us work together to overcome our biases, to acknowledge that so much more unites us than divides us. 

You have heard me say, the Kadosh Baruch Hu is watching over us at Anshai Torah.  We have, consistently had outstanding leaders in place at the right time, utilizing their strengths to serve us well.  Today, I want to believe that Joe Biden is the right man to bring honor and discretion back to the halls of Congress and into the kitchens of our nation.  Our tradition teaches us that Aaron, Moshe’s brother was “rodef shalom- a lover of peace.”  May each of us strive to live like Aaron- with less anger, and more understanding, with less rancor, and more empathy.  May each of us do our part to restore the distinction of this great country as a leader of the free world, welcoming the disenfranchised and giving everyone a more equal opportunity to pursue happiness, success, and security.  That is who we are.  Let us show the world our better selves. 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781