Tag Archives: politics

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The title is a quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Below is a text version of my Shabbat sermon from 2/4/17.

Not really a sermon this morning, but three brief vignettes that might help us, as Jews, think about about some of what is going on in Washington these days, particularly the immigration ban.  Sometimes it can be helpful to look back, because it is easy when you get comfortable – as we are today – to very quickly forget where you’ve actually come from.

And we’ll begin by looking way, way back, all the way back to this morning’s Torah portion, the events of which most scholars would date about 3500 years ago.  I want to introduce you to a young Israelite slave who was living in Egypt at that time.  His name was Nahshon, the son of Aminadav, from the tribe of Judah.  He was about 18 or 19 years old, and had lived his entire life in slavery, working in the hot Egyptian son, doing the backbreaking work of building the pyramids.  But there was something special about Nahshon.  Unlike his parents’ generation, whose spirits had been crushed by the cruel bondage of Egypt, Nahshon had a fire burning inside of him.  He had always believed that one day there might be a way to escape the slavery, to leave Egypt behind, and to live life as a free man.  But he never really knew how that night happen.

And then one day a man named Moses appeared.  He would come to the Israelite villages, and he talked about ideas that seemed strange, even crazy.  He said that the old God of the ancestors, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah had returned.  That that God had heard the cry of the Israelites in their slavery, and had set in motion a series of events that would somehow enable them to be free.  Many of the people didn’t believe Moses, but Nahshon did.  He began to quietly talk about a moment that would soon come, a door that would suddenly open, a window in time, when the Israelites would leave Egypt and set out on a journey to freedom.  Nahshon watched, and waited, and bided his time.

Then one night it actually happened.  It was the middle of the night, and a terrible cry could be heard throughout the land of Egypt.  A deathly power was making its way through the Egyptian homes, slaying all of the first born.  Moses and his messengers went through the Israelite settlements, urging people to pack a few belongings in haste, to take with them only what they absolutely needed the most.  And so the people quickly assembled – men, women, children.  Nahshon fell in with his tribe, with a small sack over his shoulder.  In his heart he felt a sense of hope he had never before felt in his life.  He turned his face to the east where the sun was rising, and he began to walk forward.  As the first rays of the sun fell on his face, his eyes burned brightly.

Lets now take our minds out of the Egyptian desert, and move forward in time about 1000 years.  In the year 586 BCE a Jew named Azariah lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  He was a simple man, living a simple life.  He made his living by harvesting grapes and olives in the groves and vineyards around his small home, and making wine and olive oil that he sold to travelers who were on their way to see the great city.  But Azariah lived in troubled times.  Jerusalem has been besieged by the Babylonian army, the greatest power in the ancient world, and the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  The Babylonians have built great war towers around the city’s walls, and they waited patiently as hunger and thirst began to set in.

In the course of a few weeks during that terrible summer Azariah watched the Babylonians bring Jerusalem to its knees.  The siege lasted for three months, but the end was quick.  The Babylonians finally breached the outer walls, and then steadily made their way towards the Temple mount, burning and destroying everything in their path.  When they reached the Temple they set it on fire, and later tore it down, stone by stone, to its foundation.  A few days later Babylonian soldiers appeared and informed the local population they would be exiled and sent to a far away land.  They had one day to prepare.  Azariah didn’t know it, or think about it this way, but very much like his distant ancestor Nahshon he packed a small sack with his few belongings.  The next morning he joined a long line of his fellow Jews, 4,600 of them, and guarded by Babylonian soldiers, they began a journey that would take many months, and would end with them living in exile on the banks of the K’var River in Babylonia.  For the first time in Jewish history there was a diaspora community, but they never forgot Jerusalem their sacred city, or Israel their holy land.

Of course there have been countless other Jewish journeys in the course of time, some forced, others taken freely. As the Muslim civilization grew to power in the 7th century Jews followed trade routes and established small communities on the Iberian peninsula.   In the the late 800s Jews gradually made their way into Europe, settling in small villages along the Rhine River, and in Italy and France.  There were forced expulsions – from England in 1290, and of course from Spain in 1492.  Each time, like Nahshon and Azariah before them, the Jews packed their few belongings and began another journey, searching for a home, searching for freedom.

I would like to share one last story with you this morning.

This story begins fairly recently in the long scope of Jewish history, on the 13th day of May, in the year 1939.  On that day a young woman named Regina Adler boarded a boat called the SS St Louis in Hamburg Germany.  There were 937 passengers on that boat, almost all of them Jewish.  They were afraid, fleeing a country they had believed to be a safe haven, a place where until recently they thought they could live freely as both Jews and Germans.  Regina was born in Austria Hungary, in 1897, but had come to Germany with her parents as a teenager.

When the ship set sail the destination was Havanah, and despite difficult conditions on board the trip went smoothly.  Every passenger on the ship left Germany with proper documentation and permits that should have allowed them to enter Cuba, but when the boat arrived at the Havanah port they were told all permits had been revoked and they were forced to remain on board.  In desperation the boat headed for US shores, but it was met by US Coastguard ships and told in no uncertain terms that it would not be permitted to land.  On June 6 the decision was made to turn the St Louis around and head back to Europe.

About half the passengers on the boat would survive the war.  England, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France all agreed to take in some of the Jewish refugees.  Most of those who ended up in Nazi controlled areas died in the camps.  But Regina Adler was permitted to enter England, and she lived there for many years after the war ended.

These are our stories, Jewish stories.  Of exile and forced travel, of wandering and searching for home and freedom.  They are ingrained into our souls and psyches – informing who we are and how we see the world.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “we are all travelers in the wilderness of this world.”  When we think about today’s events, about a world filled with refugees, about immigrants searching for a new home, about borders and who should be permitted to cross them, we should remember our own history.  After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we were packing our own small bags, leaving our homes behind, and setting out with hope for the Promised Land.

1 Comment

Filed under America, American Jewry, Beth El Congregation, Bible, civil rights, history, preaching, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, sermon, Torah, Uncategorized

Integrity

 

In his column in this morning’s NY Times David Brooks seems to suggest that we should evaluate the Trump presidency by dividing the president elect into two.  On the one hand, we’ll have the Trump who will send out late night tweets, ranting and raving against those whom he sees as enemies, making strange policy pronouncements, commenting on product lines or movie stars (Trump #1).  On the other, we’ll have the Trump who sits in the Oval Office and works with his staff, crafting the nation’s agenda and working to implement economic, domestic, and foreign policy (Trump #2).  Brooks argues that we shouldn’t evaluate Trump #2 by what Trump #1 might say or tweet. Almost as if they are two different people, unconnected in all but appearance.

Certainly there is precedent for this idea.  We have long understood that the private behavior of the president does not necessarily reflect on his ability to do the job, to lead the nation, to be the voice for all Americans.  Bill Clinton’s indiscretions come to mind.  So do JFK’s, the famous Camelot of early 60s Washington now tarnished by the probing scope of history.  But there does seem to be a limit.  Nixon’s image was irreparably damaged by Watergate, crossing the line from indiscretion to illegality the way he did.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day evidence indicates that we want someone in the office who can do the job, whether or not they are a paradigm of moral rectitude and probity.  Whether or not they are a person of integrity.

Of course integrity has another meaning, commonly the second definition you’ll find when you look it up in the dictionary.  From its verb form, ‘to integrate,’ the word also means the state of being whole and undivided.  That is to say that the outside of a person matches the inside, the public persona and private persona are one and the same.  This is a challenge for members of the clergy.  Publicly we espouse certain values, we sermonize  about faith and our fellow man, we challenge our congregants to become better people (and for rabbis better Jews!).  But privately we may struggle with our own faith.  We may all too often give in to our baser instincts, over time souring and sinking in a sea of cynicism.  We may begin to look at others and wonder what they want from us, instead of what we can give to them.  This may be all too human, but it is not holy.

There is an old midrashic comment about the ark that contained the tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai.  According to Torah text that ark was gilded with gold, both on the outside, and the inside.  Of course the outside makes sense – that is what is visible to the world, so when the people looked at the ark they saw the beautiful gold gleaming in the sun.  But why bother with gold on the inside, a part of the ark that no one saw?  The answer, of course, is that the inside is just as important as the outside.  At the end of the day the people we are most impressed with are those whose inner qualities shine through, creating a brighter light than any polished gold ever could.

2 Comments

Filed under Beth El Congregation, Bible, clergy, politics, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, the rabbinate, Torah, Uncategorized

The Titanic Sails at Dawn

Those of you who are Bob Dylan fans will recognize the line from his song ‘Desolation Row,’ one of my personal favorites.  Written in 1965 the song appeared on Dylan’s 6th album, Highway 61 Revisited.  Reading through the lyrics today the great poet/songwriter seems eerily prescient.  The first stanza alone captures perfectly the zeitgeist of today’s America:

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

A blind commissioner.  A riot squad.  The circus coming to town.  And where do you find yourself?  In Desolation Row.  At its core the song asks one central question:  where has the value of integrity gone?  The bleak answer Dylan seems to offer is this:  nobody knows.

We might say the same thing today, 51 years after Dylan first recorded ‘Desolation Row.’  Can you imagine – Bernie Madoff was just the tip of the iceberg!  This morning in the NY Times an article appeared describing yet another five star hedge fund that promised double digit returns called Platinum Partners.  Working mostly in the Jewish community, it turns out the managing partners were colluding to run a Madoff like ponzi scheme, taking out high risk loans and money from other investors to pay those who wanted to cash out.  Seven members of the firm have been arrested and face serious charges.

But why not?  What the heck?  It is everywhere, happening all the time, folks ignoring reality and just moving ahead to get their little piece of the action.  Look at Wells Fargo and their fraudulent accounts.  They have so much dishonesty to deal with they actually have a ‘how to report fraud’ tab on their website (if you like you can visit it at this link:  https://www.wellsfargo.com/privacy-security/fraud/report/).  Or what about VW, the ‘wagon of the people,’ company, knowingly and intentionally deceiving customers and governments about diesel emissions.  This wasn’t just a sin of omission, it was a sin of commission.  They had to plan it, create the software that would bypass the testing procedures, test that software, make sure it properly and effectively lied about the car’s status.  But faulty airbags, who cares?  To use a technical term, the chutzpah of it all.   When you can’t trust the people who brought you the VW bug, when you can’t trust the people who run your bank, manage your investment money, who can you trust?

So maybe it is more important than ever to fight to maintain a sense of personal integrity. What does it say in Ethics of the Fathers?  In a place where there are few people, strive to be a mensch (Avot 2:5).  It is precisely when values like integrity are under siege that you have to step forward and reaffirm traditional ideals.  Integrity matters.  Truth matters.  Right and wrong matter, and we can discern one from the other.  Doing the right thing makes a difference.  Doing the wrong thing is – well, actually wrong.  Even on Desolation Row.  It may be the case the Madoff was just the tip of the iceberg, and the Titanic is sailing at dawn.  But you don’t have to board the ship.  The shame of it is you can’t even make the journey in your old and trusted VW van.

You can read the rest of the Desolation Row lyrics on Dylan’s website.  Here is the link:  http://bobdylan.com/songs/desolation-row/

 

Leave a comment

Filed under America, music, politics, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, rock and roll, Uncategorized

The Height

Of hypocrisy, that is.  The Orthodox rabbinate in Israel was in a pickle.  A bind.  Facing a conundrum.  They had vigorously and vociferously supported Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.  When Trump was elected one prominent Israeli rabbi publicly said it was a sign that the Messiah was about to arrive.  But there was a problem, and it had to be resolved fairly quickly.  Trump’s daughter Ivanka was a convert to Judaism, but Israel’s Orthodox rabbis had previously stated that her conversion was not valid.  What to do?  How could they not accept the Jewish status of the daughter of the man they so desperately wanted to be president?

It seems it wasn’t so complicated after all.  The very rabbis who deemed the conversion not halachic (not properly performed according to Jewish law) were now willing to ‘reexamine’ the issue.  Just last week Israel’s chief rabbis released a statement in which they said a check list for proper conversion procedure would be put together, and once a rabbi was determined to follow that list all of his conversions would be considered valid.  Interestingly the statement mentioned Ivanka Trump by name, adding that in a case like hers there would not be a need for investigation – her conversion would be valid, end of story.

What a relief!  Just in the nick of time Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate remembered that in fact Jewish law can be flexible.  It is a good thing, because it sure would have been embarrassing (awkward!  in today’s vernacular)  if those Orthodox rabbis had so warmly embraced Donald Trump while at the very same time so coldly rejecting his daughter.   What would the Messiah have thought of that?  We should be able to ask him soon.  Now that Trump is going to be president, he should be here any day.

Leave a comment

Filed under conversion, Israel, Israeli-American relations, Jewish life, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, the rabbinate, Uncategorized

(What) To Say or Not to Say,That is the Question

You’ll recognize the paraphrase of the famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  (Act III, scene 1)  Interesting fact about that line, in fact that entire speech, now so sealed into our minds, as ‘canonized’ as anything in Shakespeare:   There was actually a series of earlier versions.  As an example, this version was printed in the First Quarto (1603):

To be, or not to be, I there’s the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes…

So Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer of them all, despite his preternatural gifts, worked in drafts!  And even after the play had been performed the Bard’s work continued, massaging the lines, rethinking concepts, rewriting.  Evidently when he arrived at the following formula he realized perfection, and he stopped:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Pause indeed.  For in the rabbinic world, this is the time of writing and rewriting, of switching phrases, of working ideas, struggling with transitions, worrying over the ebb and flow of a text that ironically and ultimately is meant to be spoken.  Perfection in a sermon will never be achieved, for it simply does not exist.  But we work hard, and we spend more time with these sermons that we do with anything else we’ll preach the rest of the year.

This year there is an extra challenge.  What to say, or not to say, about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Presidential election?  There is a clear legal definition you work with – a preacher may not endorse a candidate from the pulpit.  Such an endorsement would forfeit the preacher’s house of worship’s non-profit status.  But as we all know you can get awfully close to that line without crossing it.  I’ve heard rabbis (and Christian preachers as well) say everything BUT ‘and you should vote for..’   They didn’t even need to say it, because their message was already clear.

Of course in today’s highly polarized political atmosphere some folks feel that even touching on politics during a sermon is akin to landing on the third rail.  I had a congregant once tell me I shouldn’t even use the words Democrat or Republican from the pulpit.  At the same time it feels almost cowardly, or in some way irresponsible, not to address the one issue that is on everyone’s mind.

So what to say?  Or not to say?  This is the challenge rabbis around the country are struggling with this year.  In a way it is like the old joke about rabbis:  the ideal rabbi has 25 years experience in the field, but is only 35 years old.  She spends no money and requires little pay, but must dress well and drive a respectable car.  He should be at meetings morning, noon, and night, but should also find time to spend with his family.  You get the idea.  So it is with the High Holiday sermon – it should be topical, but not touch on politics.   And oh yes, it should make them laugh and cry, be filled with original insight and ancient wisdom, not make anyone angry, and perhaps most importantly of all, make them want to come back for more.  After all, there is always Yom Kippur.

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, clergy, High Holy Days, Jewish life, politics, preaching, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, Rosh Hashanah, Shakespeare, synagogue, Uncategorized, Yom Kippur

Negativity Won’t Pull You Through

this a text version of my Shabbat sermon from 5/21/16

With the Preakness this weekend and Memorial Day just around the corner in a presidential election year we know that it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with ad after ad, phone call after phone call, and email after email for the candidates in the race.  We also know from experience that a significant percentage of the publicity will be negative, what we commonly call today attack ads against the candidates.  This is an unfortunate and unpleasant part of the political process, but it is also seemingly unavoidable today, just part and parcel of the way running for office works in this country.

But the truth is the negative ads are only a small part of what the candidate has to deal with.  There is an intensive vetting that happens with every presidential candidate, a detailed examination of every recorded statement, tweet (in Donald Trump’s case), email (in Hillary Clinton’s case), business deal, taxes, public position taken, the list goes on and on.  In essence if you are running for president you are subjecting every aspect of your life – in many ways both public and private – to detailed scrutiny.  And the process really just has one intended purpose, which is to expose any flaw – any defect – in Hebrew any מום – that a candidate might have.

You may not be surprised to find out that this is not a new idea, in fact I would submit to you this morning that it is at least as old as the Torah, which pushes it back some 3,000 years or so.  In this morning’s portion there is a passage that in my mind is one of the most difficult and troubling series of verses anywhere in the entire Bible.  It crops up in the 21st chapter of Leviticus, in a discussion about the types of flaws – מומים in Hebrew – that would automatically disqualify a person from priestly service.  Most of the items on the list are physical in nature – for example if the person is blind, or lame, or even if the person has broken their arm or leg at some point, they are automatically disqualified, and not permitted to serve in the Temple rituals.

You can see why the passage troubles me.  It is in direct conflict with our modern value of inclusivity and our modern understanding that someone who struggles with a handicap can be just as productive a worker as someone who does not, and often more so.  The objection the Torah seems to have to people with these flaws is that either they might distract the worshippers, or the physical limitation they struggle with might limit their ability to properly perform their duties, and the truth is sometimes the priestly responsibilities were of a physical nature.   One way or another it certainly does remind us that the idea of scrutinizing a potential leader, a public servant, of looking for that person’s mumim – their blemishes – is something that has been going on for a long, long time.

What might be a little bit different today, however, is the number of blemishes we find in our candidates, and the striking level of unpopularity with which they are perceived.  You may have seen this week a major poll which was released comparing ratings of popularity and unpopularity between the major candidates.  More than half of registered voters have unfavorable views of both candidates – both!  Clinton is viewed unfavorably by 52% of registered voters.  And Trump is even worse, unfavorably viewed by 55% of voters.  What that means is that the majority of voters looking at the election are seeing two candidates that they don’t like, and that many people don’t feel entirely comfortable voting for.

But the truth is even before the poll came out I could have told you this.  My evidence is only anecdotal, it would not hold up to statistical analysis.  That being said I have had person after person say to me that they don’t like either candidate, and they don’t know what to do – they don’t feel comfortable voting for either Clinton or Trump.  And my sense is people are actually considering not voting at all – it is like they can’t stomach casting a ballot either way, so they might just sit this one out.

I have two things to say about that – first of all, please don’t sit it out!  Get out and vote, it is not only a privilege of being a citizen of this great country, it is also I think a responsibility, a civic duty, one we should take seriously and fulfill.  Just participating in the process is an affirmation of the core values that drive America, and we should come together on election day to share in those values.  Which is why I believe election day should be a national holiday, like it is in Israel, but that is a sermon for another day.

The second thing I would say is this.  Challenge yourself to make your decision not on negatives, but on positives.  What I mean by that is don’t decide to vote for Trump because you don’t like Hillary.  And don’t decide to vote for Hillary because you don’t like Donald.  Even if you don’t like either candidate, they have positives.  They are accomplished people, in fact two of the most successful people in the world in their chosen fields.  Look for those positives, make a list of them, and compare them.  List out what policies, what issues are most important to you – is it abortion, is it taxes, is it Israel, is it immigration, or health care – list them out, figure out the candidate’s views, and decide which one’s views you like the most, not the least.  And then get out to the voting booth in November, and cast your vote for the next president.  Don’t base that vote on what disqualifies a candidate, on what flaws and blemishes they have – base it on what qualifies them for the job, on what positions they hold or don’t hold, on what characteristics you see in them that would make them a qualified leader.  Not a perfect leader – I think we all know that doesn’t exist.  But the best possible leader we have at this time.

So in the months ahead, as the ads keep coming, as the blemishes  – the mumim – are exposed in the candidates – lets do our best to rise above the negativity.  Some of you may remember the song by Jonny Mercer and the Pied Pipers, memorably recorded by Bing Crosby in 1944 –

You’ve got to – accentuate the positive –

Eliminate the negative –

Latch on to the affirmative

and don’t mess with Mr In Between

1 Comment

Filed under America, Bible, politics, preaching, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, sermon, Uncategorized

A Hockey Game Broke Out

this the text of my Shabbat sermon from 5/7/16 – and as a post script, the Caps won last night to extend their series to a 6th game –

Of all the major sports the one I don’t pay any attention to is hockey.  Living in this area I know there are some serious Washington Capitols fans around, and I know enough to know the Capitols are on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs, after being the best team during the regular season, so I feel for their fans.  But I always felt that hockey was too focused on violence – on the occasions when I did watch a few minutes of a game while growing up it always seemed to be just at the moment when two players would throw off their gloves, begin circling each other on the ice, suddenly close and violently rain blows down upon one another’s heads.  The old joke to me always seemed exactly right – I went to a fight the other night, and the strangest thing happened – a hockey game broke out!

We might say something along the same lines this week about the Turkish Parliament.  If you follow international news you probably know that on Monday, while debating a new piece of legislation, a major brawl broke out, with members of the Turkish Parliament jumping over tables, hurling coffee and water bottles at each other, and yes, with their fists beating one another until a number of them were left bleeding and dazed.  In a bizarrely fascinating kind of way it is quite something to see, and of course there are a variety of videos available on the internet.

Perhaps in other places in the world people are not shocked by such events.  After all, just over the last few years there have been violent fights in the parliaments of Taiwan and Georgia – not the state, the country – and at least three in the Ukraine alone.  But to watch this kind of thing go on as an American is an entirely different experience.  We know that lawmakers might get verbally aggressive, we know that verbal debates might be filled with tension and acrimony, but we also know – or at least we think we know – that verbal tension and aggression will not spill over into physical confrontation.  We can’t imagine, for example, Paul Ryan jumping over his desk trying to throttle Nancy Pelosi.  If anything there is a powerful sense of decorum in the political chambers of our country, a fundamental understanding subscribed to by all the politicians that as much as they might dislike each other, as strong as their disagreements might be, they will settle their differences through the political process – debate, lobbying, and voting.

And it is something that maybe we take for granted in the US, but we should not.  I would argue it is one of the greatest gifts that our founding fathers left for us.  I remember Rabbi Loeb once saying that Americans go to bed on the night of the presidential election with not a worry in their heads that they will wake up in the morning and see soldiers in the streets of Washington.  Instead, we all know that the losing party will call the victor and congratulate him – or her.  The team of the outgoing administration will meet with the incoming team to give them everything they need in terms of knowledge, access, and power.  And at an appointed day and time the old team will quietly pack up their desks and walk peacefully out of their offices, and the new administration will just as peacefully walk in.  It happens every time, and we take it for granted – but it is truly remarkable, and one of the many things that should make us deeply grateful to live in this country.

But I will confess to you this morning that more than I ever have before I am worried that a hockey game might break out in our political process.  To me it has less to do with the candidates themselves than it does with the rising level of difficulty that we have – the common people – in terms of talking to one another about the important issues of our time.   We all know the old saying – never publicly discuss politics or religion.  But I know from conversations I’ve had with people recently that they can’t even discuss politics with friends they’ve known for decades, or even with their own family members.  The emotional reactions that such conversations produce, the anger and mistrust, even the severing of relationships, make political conversation today different than it was 15 years ago.  Two quick stories.

The first, something that happened to me.  I was driving home just recently, and I noticed a young man running along the side of the road, looking guilty, like he had stolen something.  Then I realized he had stolen something.  It was a Donald Trump sign that he had clearly taken from someone’s lawn.  Now I understand if that young gentleman does not agree with Mr. Trump’s views – it is his right, and he can, and I suppose will, express that in the voting booth in November.  But he has no right to steal a neighbor’s property, and I would argue even more than that the message of his action was exactly wrong – he was essentially saying to his neighbor ‘you don’t even the right to publicly show your support for your candidate.  And when you try to do so I will take matters into my own hand, whether legally or not.’

The second story was a bit more disturbing, told to me by a congregant.  This family supports Hillary Clinton, and by way of showing their support they had dutifully placed a Hillary sign on their front lawn.  They next day they woke up and didn’t see the sign.  When they went out to investigate they found the sign ripped to shreds all over their lawn.  To me that is worse than stealing.  Ripping something to shreds is a violent activity, and I would say – and I can tell you my congregants felt this way – there is an implied threat when someone goes through the trouble of destroying something you have put into place with your own hands.

And what I worry about is that those kinds of actions – actions! – will more and more define our political discourse.  Not the debate of ideas, not the exchange of words – even heated words – but the angry and impulsive deed which leaves no room for honest, well meant dialogue, even if that dialogue is difficult.  I don’t think any of us want to live in that kind of political climate.  I think all of us would be horrified to see a brawl break out in the halls of congress.    But I also think we have to take ownership of this issues, we have to understand that we are all responsible in a way, and therefore we all need to guard against it in our own actions and speech, and to speak out against it when we see it taking place.

In this morning’s Torah portion we read the well known 16th chapter of Leviticus, which is also the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning, describing the ritual the High Priest enacted in ancient times on that sacred day.  There is no question in the text that part of what the High Priest is doing is atoning for the sins of all Israel, everyone in the nation.  My sense of that has always been one of connection – that is to say, when I sin, it doesn’t only impact my life – in some way it also affects you.  And when you sin, I am actually implicated – it is in part my fault.  We are all connected, and each regretful act brings us all down, even if just a bit, while each redemptive act helps us, together, to rise to a higher and better place.

That is the place I would like to get to – a place of collective responsibility, of mutual respect, of meaningful dialogue.  A place where maybe one day we’ll look back and say – you know what?  I went to a presidential election, and a respectful debate about ideas actually broke out –

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Bible, community, politics, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, sermon, sports, Uncategorized