This is my last editorial as the rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim.
It has been my honor, pleasure, and privilege to serve as its spiritual leader for the past 13 years, and through some of the most dramatic and consequential political and social paroxysms in recent history. Viruses, both medical and political, multiplied with wild abandon, killing millions and costing billions with a concomitant rise in violent and persistent anti-social behaviors, including pointed attacks against the legacy targeted communities of LGBT people, people of color, immigrants, Moslems, and Jews. As a society we have come to the point where we all feel attacked and so attack others as a kind of self-defense. We claim personal, economic, and social harm even to the point of existential destruction, then we stand on this claim as our justification while we execute the same strategy on others. In doing so we have created a society where everyone is entitled and no one is safe.
We call it a variety of names, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, antisemitism; at its core is the sincerely held belief that might makes right, a kind of individually held assertion that I am entitled to force you to do my will, obey my command, and accept being my subordinate. Many people will insist that permission for this attitude was born in the Hebrew scriptures and solidified in the Christian and Muslim holy books. My take is a little different.
I believe that the attitude of might makes right was solidified and accepted long before the Torah (Hebrew scriptures) was written, even if you believe they were first offered at Sinai. I don’t believe Torah endorsed this attitude, but reported it conspicuously alongside the many injunctions to choose life, to welcome the stranger, to protect and provide for the vulnerable, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to have the humility to accept that God is the True Judge, not us.
We were also given the choice to bless or to curse, and to our shame we have chosen to fill the earth with curses. We curse those who are unlike ourselves, who thwart our desires, who do us harm, who don’t believe as we do, whose behavior is forbidden by our beliefs; we curse others casually, dramatically, insistently. We insist on the righteousness with which we have endowed ourselves as justification to curse others at will. I can only say that as a Jewish lesbian I have been targeted by a wealth of such curses, and they have only served to strengthen my adherence to my identity. I believe most others have a similar reaction. Still we persist with the curses, the snide remark, the demeaning put-down, the snarky meanspirited op-ed.
We can choose another way. We can choose to bless others. We can choose to love our neighbor as ourselves and create a world that reflects that. Imagine this scenario: you’re driving down 95 in the left-hand lane and suddenly a car roars past you in the breakdown lane. You are shocked and surprised, and as the car disappears you trail it with a slew of curses, your anger increasing with each moment banging the steering wheel in frustration. Now imagine the same scenario, only this time as the car roars past you say a short prayer that the person behind that wheel finds their peace before someone gets hurt.
May all people who find themselves behind a wheel of anger and pain be able to find their peace before someone gets hurt.