In synagogue today, as the Torah portion was chanted in lovely lilting verse, I read some of the English commentary for clues into what we were reading.
Every week, we read another piece of this holy text. We do it year round, the same chapters every year, and each time, hopefully, we find something new. Enlightening. Inspiring.
Today’s section began with a brief mention of Shabbat, the holy Sabbath, on which we are supposed to refrain from work. And then the rest of the chapter was dedicated to explaining, detail by detail, how the Temple would be built, from the holiest parts to the more mundane.
The connection, you ask? It’s a natural question.
Perhaps we are chastised about what, exactly, holiness is, to elevate our conversations and our pursuits to a higher plane.
Early on, there is a reference to the whole Israelite community, and the commentary says, “This is to restore the sense of unity and shared purpose that had existed at Mount Sinai, before the incident of the Golden Calf introduced divisiveness and disillusionment.”
Then the commentary reminds us of the belief that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among Jews. We hated one another for no good reason, and so the walls came crashing down.
I believe we are all tested, at some point in our lives, perhaps more than once, and the integrity of our character depends on how we respond to the test.
Do we stand up for right even when no one else does?
Do we cling to our beliefs, even when others ridicule, laugh, threaten?
And then this Shabbat afternoon, we watched the movie Trumbo, about that awful period in Hollywood with the blacklist, back in the 1940s and 1950s, when Communism was the fear of the day, and anyone pledging to believe the tenets of that system were questioned before Congress, called unAmerican, and thrown in jail.
Some clung to their beliefs, citing the First Amendment right our Constitution gives us to believe what we believe, even while loving our country.
Others sold out their friends. It was a dark time.
But have times changed at all?
Look around you. We have a hate-monger mouthing-off on his hopeful parade to the White House. Our political landscape is a shambles. People name-call, finger-point, and have no problem citing whole communities, races and religions for the ills of the world.
I’m going out on a limb here. Perhaps the problems in our world are that we seek to blame.
Whatever makes you different, that’s to blame.
And this is frighteningly familiar.
Throughout history – not so long ago, really – we have seen whole countries, regions, parts of the globe rise up to follow dark, demented leaders whose sole platform was laying blame on a minority group to further their own power. Let’s banish the other so that we may remain supreme, they said.
That was the party line.
War after war after war. Syria started attacking its own people, and we never paid attention until it started to bother us. That little pesky problem of refugees flooding the borders of peace-loving countries, or so we thought, and our only response is to shift uncomfortably and say, “Hmmm, if we let them in, they might be scary and threaten our way of life, so please keep the doors shut.”
The refugees are to blame. The other. Never mind that they fled persecution and torture and attack – because they believed differently.
We’ve all lived that story, but for many of us it’s so distant in our familial past that we know about it, but we don’t feel it. I don’t personally recall the shtetls of Eastern Europe. That was several generations ago. I’ve been free and easy in America for quite some time.
Thankfully, none of my ancestors were chased by the Nazis. It was my people, yes, but, and here’s the party line, that’s different.
People are people. Human, through and through.
Living, breathing, thinking, LOVING individuals and you know what? Some of us believe that the divine resides within every single creation – in me, in you, in THEM.
Which means – hold it – we are all the same.
You can’t issue blame, plain and simple. You can’t point your finger. You can’t swear it’s someone else’s problem.
We are all in this together.
It was painful to watch the story on the screen about when talented writers and actors (and other people) were blacklisted for what they believed.
We think we live in a free nation – free as long as you toe the party line.
No way. I won’t buy it. Freedom is freedom – freedom to be an idiot, yes, and freedom to effect righteous change so that every single creature can live in peace, forever more.