Friday, July 13, 2018

WARNING Haftarah #2: How???

How did we get here? How did we allow things to get this bad, look the other way when our institutions became corrupted and immoral, and hand our fate over to the insane whims of power-hungry dictators??? These are, of course, the questions
that the ancient prophet Jeremiah posed to his audience in this week's Haftarah. Our rabbinic ancestors did two really clever things by putting this forward as the parallel text to our parashah. I'll get to those sneaky lessons in a minute. I first want to remind you that this is the second Haftarah (of three) that takes us from a minor fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, to THE major day of sadness on our Jewish calendar, Tisha b'Av, the ninth of the month of Av, when the Temple was destroyed. Many other disasters also befell us on, or around, this day, so it's a catch-all for lamenting oppression and persecution. These are the three Haftarot of Rebuke, hence my titles for these blog posts are "WARNING Haftarah" #1, 2, and 3. But our grief and concern is not just historic; it is very much real and present-day. And the rabbis do NOT want you to forget it.

Jeremiah is mainly just focused on his contemporaries. They worship idols, and they form allegiances with nations that "should" be enemies, like Assyria and Egypt, and turn their backs on allies. Hard to imagine, I know. The prophet exclaims:
"How can you say, 'I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Ba'alim [idols]'?? Look at your deeds... consider what you have done!!" (2:23) Jeremiah is stunned that they would deny wrongdoing in the face of incontrovertible evidence. Now, I said Jeremiah was "just" focused on his compatriots, which made sense because he was facing a real-time crisis. However, by bringing his prophecies to their own audience, hundreds if not thousands of years later, the rabbis are sending an important message. Babylonia may be long gone, as are the Assyrians and the infamous Ba'alim-statues; but we're still violating God's laws and failing to care for God's vulnerable children. Tisha b'Av isn't just powerful because we remember the past; it challenges us to introspect and be better moving forward. These Haftarah texts prepare us for Tisha b'Av and remind us that we too are part of Jewish history, and we too have an obligation to make our societies and congregations the best they can be.

So here's the other smart trick the rabbis pull: a hidden linguistic link. Jeremiah's most powerful indictments, including the one I quoted above, start with the same word, "Eich," meaning "how." As in "HOW can you keep sinning like this?!?"
And it's a word that can lead you in many different directions, right? It's a genuine inquiry - "How did we get to this state of affairs?" - it's a rhetorical and indignant declaration - "How could our leaders be so callous?!?" - and also a hope and challenge for the future - "How will we work to improve our situation?" Furthermore, it's a question that requires specific answers, details, plans. Not just "why did it happen," but "how, precisely, are we going to start fixing it?" But the rabbis were even more clever still! The text we read next week on Tisha b'Av is the Book of Lamentations; a tragic story told by an author living post-destruction, who witnessed the ruin of his/her people, and who cries tears of utter despair. In Hebrew, Lamentations is called "Eicha," from the same root as the word "how," "Eich."

This single word thus represents a powerful bond between our two texts. And yet, their meanings are different. The first word in the Book of Lamentations is "Eicha," which can be translated as "Alas!" It is a deep, bitter, tragic outcry of grief.
Everything is ruined; all hope is gone. But if you just drop out one letter, we are instantly transported to Jeremiah, pleading with the people to change and be more caring... before it's too late. The rabbis don't just want us to learn ABOUT history; they want us to learn FROM history. Listen, I know there are many, many reasons to despair. "Alas" and "If only..." seem like ever-present lamentations on our minds and hearts. But the Bible is - and our ancient teachers are - challenging us to shift "Oy Vey" into "OK... how do we affect change?" We can't learn anything from history until we truly listen to what it's trying to tell us; that is why we read Jeremiah and Eicha. But if we treat our history like a museum, protected behind a glass wall, then we are failing to engage with it and make it applicable to our lives TODAY! Sooo... how do YOU want to read these texts and internalize these messages? How are you going to let it spur you to action? And how, ultimately, are you going to help change the world and make it a better place? The time is now, for all of us to ask "how."


Images in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of "Philip Halling / A crack in the wall, Newbridge on Usk / CC BY-SA 2.0" on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of hohum on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of AFIMSC on www.afimsc.af.mil
4. CC image courtesy of bukvoed on Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 6, 2018

WARNING Haftarah #1: The God of Love Doesn't Hold Crazy Positions

The journey, once again, has begun. Believe it or not, this week's Haftarah is the first of three warning shots, followed by the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha b'Av. We commemorate the destructions of BOTH ancient Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other calamities that befell generations of our ancestors.
We then begin a series of seven Haftarot of comfort, and right after that... is Rosh Hashanah and the High Holiday season. So yeah, even though it's hot out and it's the middle of summer, the Season of Repentance is now in view at the edge of the horizon. This also means it's the time to start to focus. What will we want to change in the year ahead? What's currently not functioning at 100%, or possibly even broken entirely, that REALLY needs our attention. We need that focus, because it's easy to get distracted and miss the Big Issues. Our Haftarah, for example, looks like it's talking about one thing, but it's really another. Oh, and some people today read this text looking at a third issue. But I don't like that third one... so I want to add a fourth!

I told you it's a sad season on our calendar, right? We hear the warnings issued to the People of Israel to hopefully avert disaster, but they ignore the admonition, and TWICE their Temples are destroyed. So what
better prophet to speak to us about our national tragedy than Jeremiah, the proverbial Eeyore of prophets. Our Haftarah comes from the very first chapter of Jeremiah, and right away, we are told that "from the north disaster will break loose on all the inhabitants of the land!" (1:14). Destruction is coming, and Jeremiah is the bearer of some REALLY bad news. And while Jeremiah focuses on the idolatrous practices of the people, as well as the greed and cruelty of the wealthy who take advantage of those less fortunate, people miss his point entirely. Jeremiah declares that the Temple will be destroyed, but it's meant to be as a SYMBOL of punishment for their sins. Yet the people obsess over the physical structure itself; pompously and self-righteously insisting that annihilation would NEVER come, because God loves this beautiful building too much.

Throughout his writings, Jeremiah and the people talk past one another. He pleads with them to be kinder to others and be loyal to God; they talk only of their gorgeous temple that will never be destroyed. As a result, they totally miss the
point, and the prophecies all come true. Fast forward to today: We are STILL missing the point!! At the heart of all true religious practice - regardless of faith - is love, compassion, and kindness. I say "true," because if someone espouses a religious principle (or worse, claims it's "God's principle") that is cruel, angry, or hateful, I firmly believe it is untrue. And here's a prime example, right in our Haftarah: When Jeremiah is first called to be a prophet, God explains why it has always been Jeremiah's destiny to do this (tough) work: "Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; before you were born, I consecrated you" (1:5). This verse is intended exclusively for Jeremiah, to impress upon him that God chose him eons before he was born. Somehow, this verse - utterly taken out of context - became the clarion call for a movement falsely based on Biblical teachings.

If you are familiar with the abortion debate, you may know that the pro-life movement claims to get its call from God, because of various biblical proof texts. One of the primary verses that is cited on multiple pro-life websites is this verse, Jeremiah 1:5. But again, this is taken TOTALLY
out of context! I believe God knew us millenia before we were born; how then is God's relationship with us transferable to this debate? Even though it's framed as a position of love, it often results in guilting, shaming, attacking, and abusing people who disagree. So how can this be "true" religion? I recently heard an inspiring interview with Rev. William Barber, where he refers to the "false moral narrative of the so-called Christian nationalists." He lists five main topics of this group, among them abortion, and then Rev. Barber declares: "That's not God's position, that's a crazy position! Ain't got nothing to do with God! God is the God of Love." I couldn't agree more. So I'll end by acknowledging that it's easy to get distracted, and easy to let others dictate the conversations. But our ancient prophets remind us that these issues are SERIOUS, and they have major ramifications. God is watching, our descendants are watching, and we cannot abdicate our moral responsibility. We do so at our own peril. The journey has begun, and we need to be really, really clear about what's at stake along this odyssey. Because if we forget, the prophets will surely be there to remind us.


Images in this blogpost:
1. CC image courtesy of Crisco 1492 on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of nikoretro on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of west ga obgyn on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of twbuckner on Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 29, 2018

Haftarat Balak: 3 Rules for Rooting Out Idolatry

A quick programming note/reminder:
Ohev Shalom is joining together with the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County to host a vigil, as part of a nation-wide protest against family separations (as well as detentions and lack of reunification) at the border. All are invited to join together THIS Saturday, June 30th, at 2:00 p.m. in or near the Swarthmore amphitheater (next to the Borough Council building). Registrations are welcome (but not required) here: 

https://act.moveon.org/event/families-belong-together/20581/signup/?akid=&zip=&source=&s=

I hope to see you there!


You know what was really popular in the ancient world? Idolatry. I'm talking about the good ol' classic stereotype you're likely picturing; pagan statues, mystical incantations, rituals involving blood, animal parts,
and maybe even some sexual depravity. It was all the rage back then. In today's world, it's hard to fully imagine what it was like; and perhaps more than just the rituals themselves, we cannot fathom the lure of them. The temptation was powerful for our ancient ancestors, and time and time again the prophets railed against the people to STOP WORSHIPPING IDOLS!! Then, for a time, they would cease and repent... but then eventually they'd sneak their way back, unable to resist its mesmerizing enchantment. But even back then, millenia ago, the prophetic pleas were NOT about the rituals themselves. The REAL evil, the deeper eroding force that corrupted society, was much, much more dangerous. And it plagues us still.

The prophets talk A LOT about this other problem, yet for some reason we focus on the blood and the sorcery instead. I don't know; maybe it's sexier? Look at our Haftarah this week, for Parashat Balak. The prophet Micah declares: "I will
destroy your idols and the sacred pillars in your midst; and no more shall you bow down to the work of your hands." (5:12) Do you see it? Do you know what I'm talking about? The idol is actually a proxy, a surrogate; the real danger is the self-worship: "I made this idol! I created this religion; I am equal to a god!!" When the self-aggrandizement gets ratcheted up, it knows no bounds. It begins with hubris and self-congratulation, and then morphs into cult of personality and abandoning of other rules and restrictions, even ones related to morality and compassion. I want to be clear about this: it doesn't begin as pagan gashing of the flesh. This is an insidious problem, because it begins innocently enough, draws followers in, and then leads to corruption, immorality, violence, and even the killing of others.

When someone declares "I am smarter! I am richer! I am better!! And I alone can fix everyone's problems," that IS idolatry. Not just because it's obnoxious or pompous, but it is truly dangerous. How can you declare
and believe such things, and also maintain a sense of compassion, humility, and empathy for others? Our Torah portion, Balak, focuses on an evil ruler who tries to attack his enemies with slander, defamation, and curses. His plan is foiled by God, and the REASON God had to step in, had to make sure the curses were not uttered, was because words ARE powerful. Slander is not innocent, laughable, and easily dismissed. That is, in part, why it is SO dangerous. It plants seeds of doubt in people's minds, it ruins reputations, and it cannot be undone as easily as it was perpetrated. Believing that one has the power AND the right to attack anyone, for anything, is ALSO a form of idolatry.

We often focus on the wrong part of a concept. We think of prophets as fortune-tellers, predictors of the future, dream-interpreters. And we picture idolatry in stereotypical, magical, heretical forms. In both cases, we're missing the point!
The prophets hold up a mirror to society, reminding us of ways we've gone astray in the past, and challenging us to be better moving forward. And idolatry is essentially a shape-shifter. It takes many appearances, and undermines societal norms in a myriad of different ways. Prophets, like Micah, try repeatedly to remind us to be vigilant, and to remember what really matters. Our Haftarah ends with just such a declaration: "[God] has told you, O human, what is good, and what Adonai requires of you; only to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk HUMBLY with your God." (6:8) When the seduction of idolatry comes slithering back, trying to reel us in, we need to remember these prophetic words and ask ourselves three questions: Is it just? Is it kind? And is it spoken with humility? If it fails ANY of those three tests, you know it's that shape-shifter again, trying to drag you back into deplorable depravity...


Images in this blogpost:
1. CC image courtesy of pxhere.com
2. CC image courtesy of pxhere.com
3. CC image courtesy of pxhere.com
4. CC image courtesy of pxhere.com

Friday, June 22, 2018

Haftarat Chukat: #Families Belong Together!

Can you imagine anyone claiming to be a modern-day prophet??? I mean, the absolute audacity, the hubris, the presumptuousness to claim the right to chastise everyone else, point out problems in society, and declare something objectively
"immoral." Well, you're looking at someone just that audacious and presumptuous. Ok, maybe you're not LOOKING at me, but you're reading his words. Now I haven't heard God's voice speaking to me, not even in a dream. And I don't see any visions of future glory or destruction. However, I do believe - quite strongly - that the ancient prophets were social critics. They held up a mirror to the community and challenged people to change their behavior; sometimes (and perhaps especially) when those people did NOT want to change. And it's THAT voice I need to inhabit right now, as foolhardy and chutzpah-dik as that might be.

Taking children away from their parents is wrong. Putting them in detention facilities is wrong. I know there is nuance to this issue, and that many feel we must consider where the children come from, who is accompanying them,
and what are the potential risks of a less-draconian policy. But sometimes we need to take a step back and see that basic humanity is at stake. Fighting over the details of rules and procedure MUST have its limits; there needs to be a point where compassion and kindness wins out. Too many dystopian novels and movies have been made about PRECISELY this issue; where law is never checked by compassion. It is our human decency that is always at greatest risk, and needs our protection more than any legal matter. Big surprise; even the Bible knows what I'm talking about.

Our Haftarah this week takes place in a lawless and chaotic time. Moses and Joshua are gone, and the era of kings has not yet begun in Israel. Occasionally, judges and leaders arise and briefly help the Israelites fight off enemies and withstand the temptations of idolatry. But after each one is gone, anarchy returns.
In this bizarre world (maybe not QUITE as hard to imagine as it once was...), we see two stark examples of law usurping empathy. We are told the story of Yiftach, a great warrior who leads the Israelites against the Ammonites. But before he becomes a hero, Yiftach is shunned by his family. His half-brothers hide behind a law that discriminates against children out of wedlock, and they banish Yiftach for being the son of a prostitute/concubine. In the Etz Hayim Chumash commentary on our text, it says: "His brothers successfully conceal their greed behind the mask of law" (pg. 909). Hey, you can't say what they're doing is wrong, can you??? They're just following the law; there's nothing they can do to change it. Oh well...

And then, even Yiftach himself falls victim to this same mindset. In a totally befuddling act of Greek-tragedy proportions, Yiftach utters a vow that couldn't POSSIBLY be ominous of something terrible yet to come. He declares that if he comes home safe and victorious from battle, he will offer as sacrifice the first "thing" that comes out to greet him. Sure enough,
his daughter runs out to congratulate her dad on a wonderful and successful campaign... Now, any normal person in a normal society would declare the vow null and void, or find some other - ANY other - way of getting out of this monstrous pact. But law is more important, right? Oaths, vows, and official declarations are unbreakable, and if our sense of decency and morality has to bend to fit into our "lawful" system, well, I guess that's just what has to happen, huh? I hope you know that I'm being sarcastic. Sarcastic and prophetic. We cannot behave this way. We have to eschew the notion that this is a partisan issue. It is not. Children should NOT suffer in this way, and our government must stop this practice, change course, and reunite these traumatized families. And we shouldn't just demand this for their sake, but for ours as well. Our society depends on it; so sayeth I!

NOTE: If you would like to stand with me against this injustice, please come on
Saturday, June 30th, at 2:00 p.m. to the Swarthmore amphitheater (next to the Borough Council building). You can read more about our vigil (hosted by the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County) online at:

https://act.moveon.org/event/families-belong-together/20581/signup/?referring_akid=undefined


Images in this blogpost:
1. CC image courtesy of pxhere
2. CC image courtesy of pxhere
3. CC image courtesy of Jonund on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Peter Griffin on Publicdomainpictures.net

Friday, June 15, 2018

Haftarat Korach: Why You Should Never Pick the Person Who Desperately Wants the Job...

Many characteristics and attributes are exceedingly important in a leader. Some things depend on the situation and the context - like combat prowess, academic degrees, or physical and mental stamina.
I mean, heading a scientific research task force does not require exactly the same skills as a military task force! There are, however, some skills that make great leaders in ANY context. I would argue that humility and self-reflection are right up there at the top. Managers who can put aside their own egos, and both listen to the opinions of others AND thoughtfully observe how they themselves come across, will likely succeed. Independently, our Torah portion and Haftarah this week are each examining the traits of a leader. Read together, they make it abundantly clear what we should - and should not - be prioritizing at the head of the pack.

On its surface, you MIGHT be tempted to read our parashah as suggesting Korach, Moses' cousin, is arguing for democracy, while Moses himself is actually the one
advocating for nepotism. Korach (along with some allies) attempts to stage a coup, chiding Moses: "The whole community is holy, every one of them, and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly??" (Numbers 16:3) But I would argue that the focus isn't really the substance of Korach's accusation, but the choice to publicly shame Moses and try to undermine his authority. And Moses DOES respond with some humility and self-reflection, and then invites God to determine who should lead the people. As with so many things in life, it isn't really about WHAT you say, but HOW you say it.

I find it fascinating, then, that the rabbis chose a text from the First Book of Samuel to further emphasize this point. At this point - hundreds of years later - there is a vacuum of leadership, with one chaotic figure after another trying to govern the people, but ultimately with no long-term, good solutions.
Finally, the people turn to the prophet Samuel to plead for him to anoint a king. Samuel acquiesces, but with great reluctance. Our Haftarah, in large part, focuses on Samuel rebuking the people for demanding a regent: "... know and see what a great evil you have committed in the sight of Adonai by asking for a king.” (I Samuel, 12:17) Samuel is not interested in power for himself, but he IS a good emissary for God, who is humble and self-reflective, and who is often compared - even in the Biblical text itself (Jeremiah, 15:1 and Psalm 99:6) - to Moses. Instead, the people get King Saul. When he is first introduced to the reader, in I Samuel, 9:2, the text tells us: "[Saul was] as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else." On the one hand, what a looker! On the other, is that what makes a good leader???

In fact, I think the author is trying to send up a red flag. REAL leadership is found elsewhere. Between the Torah and the books of the prophets, we discern that we SHOULD be looking for substance, wisdom, and most definitely humbleness and self-awareness. The prophets often remind us that genuine leaders are awed and
daunted by the task of governing, and being in control of the fate of others. Anyone who runs TOWARDS power, and who praises themselves constantly, is to be treated with wariness and caution. Additionally, our two texts this week bear another sobering resemblance. In each, the prophet publicly and proactively emphasizes his own honest conduct. Essentially, they both say "tell me whom I have wronged, or how I have robbed or deceived any of you" (paraphrased from Num. 16:15 and I Samuel 12:3). Transparency is key. "I have nothing to hide!" Their actions speak for themselves, and they need only point to their records and their behaviors to prove their merits. The lesson for us all is two-fold. We need to KNOW what real leadership is supposed to be, and how it should look. And we need to be vigilant and tireless about demanding that, and no less. Like the ancient Israelites, we ourselves are responsible for the leaders we choose. Bad behavior is their fault too, for sure. But we are not absolved of guilt. Keep reminding yourself what good leadership looks like, and never, EVER compromise on demanding that of those who govern us.


Images in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr
2. CC image courtesy of Wvk on Wikimedia
3. CC image courtesy of Paul Mercuri on Wikimedia
4. CC image courtesy of 3dman_eu on Pixabay

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Haftarat Shelach Lecha: Flipping the (Spy) Script (Guest blog)

I am away this week, so my colleague and good friend, Rabbi Kelilah Miller, has once again agreed to step in and guest blog for me. Enjoy!

Greetings and Shabbat Shalom!  It is my honor, once again, to serve as guest-blogger this week. Many thanks to Rabbi Gerber for offering me this platform for some reflections on the Haftarah.

This is an interesting week to write the weekly blog, since there is an unusually strong connection between the Torah Portion and the Haftarah. In the Torah reading, Moses 
sends representatives from each tribe to spy out the Land and to bring back word about the quality of its harvest, as well as any news about fortifications built by the inhabitants. The spies bring back a terrifying report, citing major cities and fortresses, as well as a race of giants that live in the Land. The people fall into despair, and are doomed to 40 years of waiting and wandering. The only two spies who bring back an encouraging report are Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh. Joshua and Caleb are rewarded for their faith and hope by being the only two people of their generation allowed to enter the Land of Israel.

And so we find, in our Haftarah (40 years later…), that Joshua is preparing to lead the people into the Promised Land, having inherited the mantle of leadership from Moses. Interestingly, Joshua chooses to send a new group of scouts into the Land, just as Moses did.  But the story resolves quite differently.  Instead of the Israelites being struck with terror, the scouts enter the city of Jericho and discover that the local residents have become terrified of the People of Israel!  The “Script” has been flipped, and now the Israelites are empowered to claim their promised destiny.

Because these stories are so similar, they are ripe for comparison.  The parallels give us an opportunity to focus on the differences, and on the ways in which the second  
story acts as a foil to the first. One difference that might easily be overlooked is the difference in how each band of spies interacts with the inhabitants of the Land. The first group of spies goes into the Land, sees the people and cities there, and dashes back to the encampment with the bad news. The second group, on the other hand, spends the night inside one of the Canaanite cities. They stay with one woman in particular, by the name of Rahab. She is a marginalized figure in several ways - she is a woman in a patriarchal society, she is a sex worker, and her home is literally constructed as part of the wall surrounding the city. She lives on the boundary.

Rahab emerges as an unlikely hero of the story.  She both informs the spies that the Canaanites are living in fear, and acknowledges that God is the source of the Israelites’ power.  Most strikingly, she helps the spies escape the city in exchange for a promise that she and her family will be spared in the coming battle.  While there are (of course) many ways in which to interpret the encounter between Rahab and the spies, I want to offer the possibility that she appears in our text to remind us that pausing, listening, and being open to perspectives from unlikely (and marginal) places can sometimes give us the wisdom we need to move forward.  This is especially true when we are likely to be afraid or emotionally “set off.” If we are ready to take the risk of “staying the night” in a strange place, occupying an unfamiliar perspective, we may gain insights into ourselves, how we are perceived, and how we might walk our paths differently.  We may even begin to rewrite the script.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Haftarat Be-ha'alotecha: Light It Up!

Our Torah portion and our Haftarah focus on very different subjects. The weekly reading talks about the final items constructed in the Tabernacle, then offers stories
of the Israelites marching through the desert, and sprinkles in some sibling rivalry between Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. The Haftarah was composed under Persian rule, when the prophet Zechariah tried to convince the people to rebuild the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. He offered a vision of a glorious future, with the Israelite people resettled in their homeland. So what links these two texts together? Well, they both talk about a particular ritual object. The Torah describes its practical, ceremonial use, while the Haftarah employs it as a symbol of future, messianic salvation. Any guesses on which item they both discuss?? I'll give you a hint: It has seven arms and supports the oil industry...

We are indeed talking about the Menorah; the famous candelabra that has been a symbol of Judaism for A LOT longer than the Star of David. And though it's a well-known and oft-depicted part of the Temple rite, it's actually not so clear what it was FOR in the ancient sacrificial cult. I mean, if you think about it,
you need objects to hold or employ sacrifices, incense, pure water, and even blood... but what does the Menorah do? If the flame on the altar provided illumination, and most of the rituals took place outdoors, why did they need a fancy-shmancy candelabra??? When paired with our Haftarah, more information comes to light (pun intended...). An angel approaches Zechariah and shows him a seven-armed lampstand, which symbolizes God's Presence and God's future promises of redemption. Our Haftarah ends at chapter 4, verse 7, but just three verses later, the angel tells Zechariah: "these seven are the eyes of the LORD, that run to and fro through the whole earth." The Menorah represented God's vigilance; able to see all, uncover and illuminate that which was hidden, and shine a light on injustice to allow truth and righteousness to prevail. In the Temple, the Menorah was a symbol of God!

I've been thinking a lot about this concept recently. Not so much the Menorah itself, but the importance of emulating God, and bringing to light that which needs to be seen, confronted, and exposed. Most of us agree with this concept in theory...
but when things get real, uncomfortable, raw, and vulnerable, the darkness of ignorance starts to seem pretty appealing... Just in the last few weeks, and even days, we've seen examples of racism unearthed, and vile, despicable sentiments aired in public. We even have openly anti-Semitic candidates running for public office, brazenly touting their affiliations with white supremacist groups. One reaction we might be inclined to feel - and which I've heard expressed - is, "They used to at least be ashamed of these views; how horrible that they're now flaunting their racism so openly!" But here's where I want to push back, and where I want to elevate our Menorah-mindset. We need to bring all of this to light. We need to hear it vented, so we can face these incendiary opinions head-on.

Ask yourself this: Were we really better off when these views were silent? When it was murmured in backrooms, seethingly felt with indescribable vitriol... but hey, at least they smiled at us in public, right? No way. If the xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism is out there, we are better off understanding it, confronting it, and exposing it for the hatefulness that it is.
It must be highLIGHTed, because it WILL thrive in the darkness. Looking back, for a moment, at our two texts this week, perhaps the Menorah functions as both - the tool AND the symbol. We must wield openness, transparency, and honesty as implements in a battle against hate and ignorance. It can be our proactive vehicle, where we confront and call out racism whenever we see it. At the same time, our Menorah is a symbol. It reminds us to shed light and insight, and challenges us to be better, to DO better. The lampstand reminds us of God's Presence, and also the importance of our own presence. Like our ancestors, we sometimes fall short and commit offenses. We mess up. But when we can push ourselves to truly SEE wrongdoing, in us and in others, and bring all of it to light, then REAL, lasting change is genuinely possible.


Images in this blogpost:
1. CC image courtesy of Personal Creations on Flickr
2. CC image courtesy of Ariely on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of DSC-RX100M4 on pxhere
4. CC image courtesy of Marco Sanchez on Flickr