America, I Hardly Knew You
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Second. Even as we put our shields up, so too we must break out of our bubble to understand the America we do not know. One need go no further than the opening lines of our parashah to see that the mission of the Jewish people was never to stay insular. “Go forth,” God instructs Abraham, “from your land, your birthplace, from your father’s house.” (Genesis 12:1) Abraham understood well, as evidenced by his intervention on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, that to be a Jew demands that we move out of our comfort zone, that we put the well-being of a wider humanity at the forefront of our concern. So too, the spiritual heroics of our day may just demand that we reach out to the neighbors we don’t know, to that America we don’t know, but should. There is no guarantee, I suppose, that that America is interested in speaking to us, but it strikes me as indefensible not to make an effort to reach out. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance. By all accounts, a determinative factor in this election was the hard-hit heartland of our country, who, having watched their livelihoods hemorrhage to China and Mexico, feel cast aside and forgotten. To be dismissive of their pain is both wrong and counter to the interests and ethic of our nation. Their anger, their frustration, their cry for change as expressed at the voting booth is not only not insincere, but necessary to understand if our country as a whole is to heal. The faith community has a critical role to play in this dialogue. How amazing would it be for our synagogue to partner with a church in central Pennsylvania and share our respective hopes and anxieties for our nation? To ask together, with empathy for one other, how we can all share equally in the American dream. Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, urban or rural, the calling card of any faith community is the belief that every human being is created equally in the divine image. With that as our starting point, nothing is insurmountable. Again, there is no promise or expectation that such a dialogue will yield agreement, but if we fail to try to at least understand one another, then the next and necessary step of binding our nations wounds is an impossibility. Now is not the time to curl up in the shell of self-righteous parochialism, now is the time to “go forth” beyond our comfort zone and look for America – the America we know, and the America we need to know.
Third. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, as a Jewish community we must redouble our commitment to the values we hold dear. It is a mystery why Abraham was chosen to be the founder of our people. The Midrash explains that Abraham can be compared to a man on a journey who sees a birah doleket, a palace ablaze in flames. The man wonders, “Is it possible that the palace lacks an owner?” Just then, the owner of the palace calls out from the blaze and says, “I am the owner of the palace,” and the man understands his duty to help extinguish the fire. So too Abraham, and by extension every Jew since, has a calling to see a world in need of rescue, in need of repair, in need of putting out the flames of injustice wherever they are set ablaze. There may be, as Ecclesiastes taught, a time for everything – to mourn and to dance, to laugh and to cry – but I am pretty sure now is not the time to be complacent. As Jews, we know our obligations to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in our midst; we were once, after all, strangers in a strange land. We know, as Jews, that the power of any community, or nation, is to be measured by its attention to the weakest, not the strongest link. In this room and in this nation there are and will always be differences on matters of politics and policy. But as a Jewish community, our commitment to the dignity of every man and woman, our commitment to protect, care for, and repair the world in which we live, our commitment to maintain a dogged pursuit of tzedek u-mishpat, righteousness and justice – these are non-negotiable. A democratic society confers upon us both the privilege and the obligation to actualize the values we claim to hold dear – by exercising our right to vote, speak freely, and peaceably assemble. The fires of injustice are ablaze and we dare not turn away. Now is the time to leverage our passion toward getting involved, engage in the political process, and build a future that reflects the love we have for our country, our children, and grandchildren. This is what it means to descend from the line of Abraham; this is what it means to be a blessing to the families of the earth.
Friends, we have lived through a week and an election that will be discussed for generations to come. Emotions are high, the rhetoric charged, and the future not yet clear. We are all in need of pastoral guidance, myself included, as we seek to regain our bearings. Of all the questions put to me this this past week, the one that sticks out most was one congregant’s inquiry as to whether, given the election results, he still needed to recite the prayer for the country. My answer to him, my answer to all of you, is “absolutely and all the more so.” To protect our people, to seek out the other, and to work towards actualizing our values – these are good starting points. But the real calling of the hour is uninhibited gratitude for the blessing of our country. Gratitude that we live in a democratic society where sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but you can always seek effectuate change. Gratitude that we live in a country founded on the premise that all men and women are created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That we live in a country whose promise is larger than any one individual and any one election cycle. These are blessings deserving of our unrestrained patriotism, blessings worthy of our innermost prayers. We pray with gratitude for the gift that is America, we pray for the continued strength of the values that are the foundation of our democracy, we pray wholeheartedly and without hesitation for the elected leadership of our country and most of all, we pray, each of us and all of us together, that God bless these, the United States of America.