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Rosh Hashanah Day 1, 5778/2017, ‘How good and how pleasant it is for  brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.’

10/08/2017 12:35:50 PM

Oct8

 

 

A Song of Ascents; of David.

Hine mah tov umah naim shevet achim gam yachad.

 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!

 

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
coming down upon the beard; even Aaron's beard,
that comes down upon the collar of his garments;
Like the dew of Hermon, that comes down upon the mountains of Zion;
for there the LORD commanded the blessing,
even life forever more.

 

Judaism puts tremendous value on unity, on good relations between people.

 

We know from the stories of the Torah and Tanakh how destructive fighting among our own people can become.

 

How it can create painful divisions and cause tremendous suffering. How it can lead to the destruction of our whole society and way of life.

 

The rabbis tell us that sinat chinam – baseless hatred was the cause of the destruction of the second temple. What began as a personal argument turned into a national tragedy for the whole nation at large.

 

Hine ma’tov uma’naim shevet achim gam yachad.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.

 

This year, as we returned to the United Stated from our congregational trip to Israel, I had the feeling in my gut of coming back not only from a vacation but from a country that was in relatively decent shape compared to the situation I was going back to.

 

I thought it was perhaps the only time leaving Israel that I was flying to a country with more conflict, divisions, and trouble than our Promised Land.

 

It was wonderful and relaxing being in Israel, away from all of it. Only dealing with the threat of terrorism, deep divisions between religious and secular, the interminable conflict with its neighbors. At least it felt like nothing new - normal life.

 

Here, it is as if we are in a cooking pot.

You could feel it. As always – boarding one of the American airlines to fly over the Atlantic, The air stewards and stewardesses were friendlier.

But it wasn’t long before the uneasiness also crept in.

As we woke up with the plane closing in on this beautiful continent, it was tangible, we were landing back amidst ‘the situation’ here.

 

It has been a year where we have witnessed more arguments taking place between friends, family members and co-workers than at any other time.

 

Relationships have frayed, tensions heightened, distrust grown.

 

As someone who tends to avoid speaking about politics from the bima, it has been impossible to ignore.

 

A profound breakdown of society happening right here among us.

A wise person once said to me, a relationship between people ends when there is no longer enough love and commonality for each side to overlook what they do not like in the other.

 

And when that love and commonality is completely exhausted -- where there used to be dislike turns to revulsion.

 

What happens when we believe that our very neighbor is not only wrong but possibly evil?

 

What happens when a society segregates itself and its directions are pushed further and further into two different cultures, philosophies, ways of life, everything?

 

It is like your bladder not getting along with your pancreas. Your heart rejecting the lungs.

It is painful and dangerous – for everyone.

 

Last year was also difficult, but it was across the street.

Now it is in our home.

 

On one hand, it is not as if it is anything unusual is happening!

Once you have more than one person, you will have differences.

 

And you know what they say about us Jews.

Two Jews, three shuls. One shul for each to go to, and one for neither of them to attend. –

People have differences and it leads to difficulty and pain.

 

We have different opinions.

And it is a good thing.

It is truly a good thing.

Differences are essential.

 

As the Chassidic leader Rebbe Nachman exclaims - The more different opinions we have, the more God’s name is sanctified.

 

It is the Jewish way.

Our Talmud is the book that records the differing opinions.

One rabbi said havdalah, the ritual that ends of Shabbat, with the blessing over the wine, the spices, and then a flame, and the other one did it in the complete opposite order.

This way and that way. And every way in between!

 

In the classic method of Jewish study, the more arguments you raise, the brighter you are, the more you are glorifying the Torah and its shivim panim, its seventy faces.

 

But when the debaters forget their commonality, it no longer glorifies God’s name, it desecrates God’s name.

 

One of the striking stories I’ve heard in the past months was about a young man who was the son of white supremacists. Not just any white supremacists, a ‘first family’ of the movement. An insider. His father - the founder of the most popular website, storm front. David Duke, the leader of the Klu Klux clan -- his godfather. He grew up going to white supremacy summer camps. It was in his bones. He was a natural leader among the other youth, involved in the family business.

 

He recalled that his family were not supporters of violence. They were cordial with individuals of others races. Their belief was that races should live apart. We are different. It is for our own good. Whites should dominate and rule all others, not to discriminate but for the benefit of humanity, because they are superior. They had facts, stories, and narratives. It made sense.

Then, life took him to a liberal arts college.

 

As he said, he made friends, played guitar on balconies.

Went to parties.

While still actively promoting the family business. He was an innovative young voice for the website.

 

But then one day, he was found out. And he was outed. Who he was, where he came from. What he did with his spare time.

 

All his acquaintances and friends, his college community, everybody abandoned him.

Except for one. He still had one invitation on campus.

I was astounded when I heard this. His invitation was to the Shabbos table of an observant Jew.

 

Alone and friendless on campus, he took the invitation and was welcomed at the table. He was even encouraged to voice his arguments! He had six studies that showed white people have higher IQ’s. But the next Shabbat, his host countered with 150 studies, from more reputable sources, that showed otherwise. They argued at the Shabbos table. And beyond, and they also, amidst their debates, became friends, close friends even.

The son of one of the first families of the white supremacy movement and an observant Jew. A story of our times.

His opinions and worldview began to wear down, and his eyes started to see things differently.

Until, he publicly confronted his past, his family and the whole movement.

He said his family was upset, his father said he wished that he’d never had a son. But the relationship was not completely broken.

 

When my wife Rachel told me this powerful story, before I looked it up myself on the New York Times, what shocked me most was how soft my activist wife was being on the white supremacists! She seemed almost understanding of the situation. ‘He was just brought up with a narrative and a way of thinking, same as us,’ she said, coming from a family that is probably diametrically opposed to them. He was someone who went through a journey.

 

His story did not quite fit the box we would have imagined.

It was redemptive and reading the story in full felt redemptive as well. And not just because of his journey away from his upbringing.

 

If we can, even for a second, humanize such a person and background, we surely can humanize those whose views are not really that different than our own.

 

My brother was recently in town to speak at the synagogue about our shul’s ground breaking partnership with his organization ISraAID that raised $60,000 from our community for Syrian refugees. I took him to a River Forest town hall meeting exploring a local political issue. It was a very dramatic meeting. Strong opinions. Motions on each side. Emotions! But at the end, what was interesting my brother said, as an Israeli coming from the outside, was that he found the differences in the two positions were actually really quite small. He expected much wider, more sweeping differences. Virulent opposing positions.

 

And the part I love most of the white supremacist story.

The power of the Shabbos table.

Because it is our Jewish model. What a Shabbos table should look like. As it is imagined in our tradition, an altar that replaces the altar that was in the Temple. An altar where we eat a holy meal offered to God, for God. Where we engage in the most important of human activities, eating, but also bonding, sharing, deeply, not always on subjects we agree on, but always with the purpose of coming to a deeper understanding of life and of ourselves.

 

A space where we can open our table to those who are different than us and search for common ground.

If the man in that story could open his table to a white supremacist, can we not - smaller people than he – invite those we disagree with?

 

It is the opposite of sitting on our computers reading Facebook threads of only the people who agree with us.

It is sharing a holy meal with our opponents.

That takes incredible courage and noblesse.

 

It is one of the reasons that our synagogue in the coming year is facilitating Shabbat meals in our community. And that we are organizing communal Shabbat meals out of this building. In people’s homes. Even in the new building in Austin Gardens, a park in Oak Park.

Because we think that the antidote to what is happening around us -- is to show brotherly and sisterly love to all - at least around a Shabbat table.

 

Hine mah tov umah naim shevet achim gam yachad, how pleasant and good it is for brothers and sisters to sit together in unity.

 

If you would like to be part of this initiative and share a Shabbat meal with others, you can ask our wonderful new membership engagement coordinator, Stacy Flint about it. Stacey, please stand up.

 

We would love to expand the Shabbat dinners to create a flurry of loving relations in this community, our little corner of this troubled country right now.

 

If there is someone you know you disagree with, do not only argue with him or her in your mind, gather your courage and invite them to a meal. I challenge you.

 

We should all try sitting together. Let wing, right wing, no wing! Single, married, one faith, two faith, multi faith, interfaith, Mid-West, East Coast, West Coast. South. Junior or senior.

 

It is the true end goal of our Talmudic minds. Over the centuries, after a while, what were the yeshiva bochrim, young people, doing studying all day? They were harmonizing, the thousands of the sometimes conflicting pages of the Talmud. Finding all of the ways they made sense together. It was the peak of Jewish learning, the Tosefists in France and Germany in medieval times, found all the places where there was no resolution, and then did whatever they could -- whatever they could - to make it all make sense, to make it whole.

Harmonize. Argue together until you work it out – at deeper and deeper levels, to the last detail, le shem shamayim, for the sake of Heaven.

Taking the endless faces of humanity and individuals and finding the common threads.

 

It is the message of our holiday, of Rosh Hashanah.

Hayom nivra haolam – today the world was created.

But not really the world – that was 5 days ago.

On Rosh Hashanah, humanity, human beings were created.

 

As the Mishnah, our earliest rabbinic collection, says, every human being is stamped from a different mold, unlike coins that are all made from the same mold. Each one unique but all be’tzelem Elo-him, in the image of God.

 

All bn’ai Adam, all children of Adam and Eve.

 

If we can remember that truth, and never forget it. If we can reclaim our common thread, our common purpose, our common love. Then we can have our arguments. Arguments that create the richness of human experience.

 

I remember as a child I had a book that on one page showed the great colorful mass of humanity. In all of its differences and beauty. Then, on the next page, there was a picture of all of humanity where everybody is dressed the same, in the same clothes. All is grey. You can’t tell a face from another. We know what we want our world to look like.

 

As rabbi Nachman of Breslov says, the more differences there are the more God’s name is sanctified.

 

And as Reb Gedalia Koenig, One of the modern Breslov leaders once said, the Jewish people can be compared to a tree, each person is a leaf, a flower, a branch on the tree. Each branch is different, each flower is unique, and each leaf has its own particular form. It is all their differences taken together that create the great beauty, harmony, and wholeness of the tree.

 

What do you do when you think there is one of your fellow leaves or branches that is sick or burning and you want to drop it off?

You reach out to it; to see what is truly happening.

You invite the branch to Shabbos dinner.

 

Dropping it off is our last resort after everything else has been tried and failed.

 

During the ten days between RH and YK, we are asked to say we’re sorry to those we’ve wronged.

If not once, then twice. Three times.

We seek with an open heart to repair the wounds.

Because we cannot continue to live like this.

 

If the political tables are completely turned in 3 and ½ years, it will still be the same deep divisions and quarrels. Who knows what will happen? It has already lead to violence, death and injury.

 

As the U’netaneh Tokef prayer says: Ma’avireen et roa ha’gzeirah. We can avert the evil decree. It must be averted!

 

How? How do we heal the divisions and hatred?

The U’netaneh Tokef prayer also gives us the answer:

Teshuvah, Tzedakkah, u’Tefillah.

 

Charity, prayer and repentance can remove the severity of the decree

Tzedakkah. Charity. By opening our hearts to others, hearing them out.

Accepting for one second to put ourselves in the mind of a person we completely disagree with, that we spend hours arguing with in our minds, who is repulsive to us. To inhabit their fears and their difficulties, their worries, and their strengths and their own unique part of the great tree of humanity.

The shade they are providing for a different bird.

The fragrance they are giving off that balances something else.

The nectar they provide that feeds a different bee.

Acknowledging that our branch is not the only important one. The trunk is still solid, even with the other. Though the leaves are rustling and the tree is shaking, the roots are deep.

We need reach out to them and heal the anger and revulsion.

We need to find decency. We need to find boundaries. We need to be able to allow a part of ourselves to see the other side. We need to have Tzedakkah to be charitable, have a generosity of spirit toward the other person.

 

The next component in averting the evil decree is Tefillah prayer. Prayer is our means of building a bridge between ourselves and the Creator, between our deepest best self and our everyday self, between our neighbors and ourselves. Connecting. Praying. Building bridges. Understanding ourselves deeper.

 

Prayer empowers us to connect beyond words, beyond arguments - to connect heart to heart and soul to soul.

 

Finally, the last component of averting the evil decree is Teshuvah – repentance.

 

The work of saying we’re sorry.

We have stereotyped the other.

We have assumed the worst.

We have stricken them in our thoughts.

We have ignored their good sides.

We have been unkind to ourselves.

 

It has been a difficult year.

A very difficult year.

All that has happened.

But we can find commonality.

We can find harmony.

It is our great test.

The great challenge of our times!

 

As Pirkei Avot tells us: "It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."

 

We know it can lead us to greater peace and greater harmony.

The Talmud Moed Katan tells us that God found that there is no better vessel to hold blessing than peace.

 

Where there is peace there is blessing.

When we are at peace with each other, we can accomplish anything.

There is hope. There is a future. Despair is chased away.

 

Sometimes, making peace means acting to increase harmony in the world.

At other times, it means finding wholeness within.

 

In the Shemonei Esrei prayer, we say: barkhenu avinu kulanu kechad b’or panecha. Bless us, our Father, all as one, with the light of Your face.

 

When we live and act as one, then we are blessed with the light of the Divine face – with peace and well-being and life.

 

We need to hold onto our vision of a society that is whole again, that is marching with love and hope to new times and a new future. A country and world living in the light of the divine countenance and the goodness and pleasantness of brothers and sisters sitting together in peace.

 

Hine mah tov umah naim shevet achim gam yachad

How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to sit together in unity!

 

 

Copyright © Rabbi Adir Glick

 

Tue, July 23 2019 20 Tammuz 5779