Feeling Mandated to Act

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As a Progressive Jew, my sense of commandment moves from the internal to the external. I spoke about that sense of commandment, that sense of mandate, when I delivered these words at the vigil for Orlando organized by me and my colleagues of the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council:

In my tradition, we are told, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor”. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate, a commandment. If we translate it VERY literally, it’s a little more intense, “Do not STAND ON the blood of your friend.” For me this means, that if we DO stand idle while our neighbor bleeds, it is as if we are standing ON the blood of our neighbor. In standing idle, we think we are removing ourselves from the situation. The text tells us that by doing nothing, we actually take a step forward, CLOSER to our neighbor’s suffering, ON his/her blood, ON his or her pain and anguish.  In addition, by using the word “friend” in speaking about the one who bleeds, we are told that we cannot see a suffering person as anonymous, as nameless, as someone who can be ignored. When we approach this responsibility in the most encompassing, life-affirming way, I AM every person who was killed or injured in the Pulse Club in Orlando. I am their families and THEIR friends. We are all inextricably connected and no religious practice or identification, no sexual reality, no race or ethnic background can EVER separate us!

But…right now, in my individuated self, I am me and I’m not grieving. At this moment if I grieve, I’m standing idly ON my friend’s blood. So I won’t mourn.  I’ll be angry. I’ll be disgusted. I’m disgusted with assumptions of a gun culture in this country that some perceive as having been woven into the fabric of our nation from when the creation of the world first began! That is NOT so and we need to start screaming that to our Senators and our Congress people. Because we will NOT stand on the blood of our friends. We need to demand that those representatives actually READ the second amendment and recognize that its sole purpose was to protect state militias of the 1790 era. We will NOT stand idly by. We must say that for ANYONE in this country to own an ASSAULT rifle is not just illogical, it’s insane. DON’T stand idly by!

Now you may not be Jewish and you may think this may not be your commandment. Don’t worry, we still consider you obligated. We’re ALL obligated to pursue justice and, to do that, NOT ONE of is allowed to stand idly by. If you haven’t called Congress yet, call tomorrow morning. And then call them the next day and the next and the next. NEVER sit idle until we bring this country back to sanity. DON’T stand on your friend’s blood. Don’t stand idly by.

This Month Ramadan is Our “Bershert”

Maimonides said that “miraculous” events in world history are not miraculous at all because they were woven into the fabric of the universe at the beginning of this creation. Such awesome occurrences such as the splitting of the Sea of Reeds (aka, the Red Sea) and the Ten Plagues were not abrogations of nature, but rather planned variances planted into nature so that at the right time, in the proper context, they would come into realization.

As a result, Maimonides did not “believe” in miracles. He did, however, grant that each of us will perceive certain experiences in our lives as miraculous, as beyond serendipitous and coincidental. I see a miracle in this year, when our Holy Festival of Shavuot (one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals, Sukkot and Pesach being the other two) arrives during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. The “miracle” is not the timing but rather the theme of each. Shavuot is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Likewise, Ramadan is the month in which Quran was revealed to Mohammed. On what is known as Lailat al-Qadr (Night of Power or the Night of Destiny) the beginning of the Quran was given to Mohammed (the rest to be slowly revealed over the next twenty-three years). The revelation at Mt. Sinai, on the other hand, is seen in rabbinic tradition as including all “t”orah, purposely written with a lowercase “t” to indicate all of Jewish teaching and learning, from the Torah, to the rest of the Bible to the Mishnah to the Talmud to the Aggadah (literally, “telling” or story) and “even [to] the question a pupil asks his teacher” (Exodus Rabbah 47:1).

What makes a text “holy” for a people? Is it the text itself or is it the way in which people interact with it? Must it be seen as coming from a “holy source” or could it even be perceived as being written by human beings who were creating the stories and the laws with a “holy purpose”? Is only our Jewish text holy or can we appreciate, without adopting, the specialness and the poetry of other texts considered “holy” by other – could other texts, even secular texts, be considered part of “t”orah for us? The whole world is filled with “t”orah. That is the revelation I celebrate on Shavuot.