D’var Torah: Acharey Mot / Kedoshim (2010)

Acharey Mot – Kedoshim D’var Torah

Rabbi Maurice April 23, 2010

Shabbat shalom. This Shabbat we continue our journey through the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, or Leviticus in English. We actually read from two Torah portions this Sabbath. The first is called Acharey Mot, and the second is called Kedoshim.

Acharei Mot presents an account of the laws of Yom Kippur, as well as a list of laws regarding sexual relationships. Kedoshim offers us a list of laws that define which behaviors are considered holy – kadosh – and which are not. It’s a mixture of ethical and ritual laws.

Perhaps the most famous part of Kedoshim is Chapter 19 of Leviticus. Chapter 19 happens to be right at the mid-point of the Torah, and many commentators have described it as the heart of the Torah. It begins with God telling the Israelites to be holy because God is holy. And then the Torah goes on to present a list of mitzvot – commandments.

The list includes the foundations of a universal human ethics. Honor your parents. Don’t steal or make a false oath. If you’re a farmer, leave the corners of your fields unharvested so the poor and the needy can anonymously come glean and avoid both starvation and the embarrassment of begging for food.

If you hire a day-laborer, pay him or her promptly for their work, the same day. In other words, don’t take advantage of their desperate economic situation or essentially enslave them by withholding their wages for long stretches so that you can force them to stay under your employ.

Don’t insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind – in other words, don’t amuse yourself at the expense of another’s difference of ability. The phrase “stand up before the aged” is also found in this chapter, and the exact words that the Torah uses for this commandment are the words you’ll see posted on Israeli busses above the seats closest to the bus’s doors.

This is the section of Torah that says don’t profit by the blood of your countrymen and women, or hate them in your heart. Do tell someone if you see them doing wrong, but don’t let yourself get dragged into their wrongdoing too. Keep the community’s place of worship in good condition and treat it as a sacred place. Don’t defraud anyone, and love your neighbor as yourself. V’ahavta l’rayecha kamocha – possibly the most famous passage in this entire section.

And in this section of the Torah God states, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, ye shall not do them any wrong. The stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as the home-born among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am ADONAI, your God.

How ironic that we come upon these words tonight just as the State of Arizona has passed a law allowing police officers to take race into account and stop people on the street to do a check on their immigration status. I guess it’s not enough to use undocumented immigrants for hard labor in our agricultural fields and pay them a couple bucks an hour so we can have cheap lettuce, strawberries and melons. No, we need to scapegoat them too and humiliate an entire racial group with spot checks by police.

Is that the best that’s in us as a society? Is that how we show the greatness of our nation? By wronging the stranger? I’m sorry – apparently I’ve digressed.

Continue reading “D’var Torah: Acharey Mot / Kedoshim (2010)”

#DACA = Time for New Approach to #Resistance

Count me among the millions of Americans – apparently 3/4 of the population according to one poll – who don’t want to see Dreamers deported. Trump’s DACA decision is all the varieties of awful that a gazillion writers and activists and politicians have already described online, in the papers, in interviews, and in the streets ever since Jeff Sessions took the podium and threw 800,000 people who deserve better under the bus.

I know that, starting today even, there will be hundreds of demonstrations – marches, vigils, probably some civil disobedience too. And already millions of people are flooding Congressional voicemail boxes and email boxes with protest messages and demands that Congress pass a straight-up Dream Act bill pronto and test DT’s claim to be ready to sign such a bill into law.

And all of that energy and activism will make a difference, which I guess I believe it always does especially if it’s done in a non-violent and intentionally ethical way.

But here’s the thing.

The DACA announcement is just the latest in a series of actions by the Trump Administration that is designed to disrupt, endanger, demoralize, and weaken a part of the American community. Its reverberations go well beyond the Dreamers and their immediate families. Sudden shifts in DACA policy create waves of fear throughout the entire undocumented population, and throughout much of the Latino-American community, American citizens included. (And yes, other immigrant communities too, but given Trump’s long campaign of hating on Mexicans in particular, it’s important to be clear that Latinos are being targeted with a particular set of toxic and bigoted memes.)

Image result for Dreamers DACA

Trump’s efforts to repeal the ACA and, in the aftermath of Congress’s failure to pass a bill, his deliberate attempt to sabotage its proper functioning, also bring uncertainty, anxiety, and ultimately political exhaustion to those who rely on the ACA (like my family). Not just the people who use the exchanges – everyone who depends on different parts of the law, like Medicaid recipients, including families w/severely disabled children, is thrown off balance. Even if in the end the ACA stays in place and Trump loses interest in trying to sabotage it, think about the massive amount of contingency planning for worst case scenarios that’s going on in millions of households in this country, and the time, money, and volunteer hours that progressives are putting into trying to keep the law alive. That’s all energy and resources that could otherwise have been used to advance a progressive agenda, redirected down a path that will probably end in at least a partial loss of the hard-fought gains the ACA represented. Continue reading “#DACA = Time for New Approach to #Resistance”

Broken Conversations

Was talking with my fabulous wife, Melissa, this morning, about immigration issues in the U.S. One of my take-aways was that this subject, like many others in our society, has become so polarized and politicized that it’s virtually impossible to have a functional and thoughtful conversation about it.

Case in point:

We both are horrified by the xenophobia and racism Trump uses in talking about Mexican and Latino immigrants – particularly undocumented immigrants. And we both fully support comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship. That said, we know someone who has a beef with current U.S. immigration policy and who, as a result of that beef, sometimes expresses support for Trump’s candidacy (even though he readily agrees that Trump is a racist and a demagogue). Ironically, his beef is not with Democratic proposals for immigration reform; no, his beef is with the H1B-Visa program, the one that allows American companies, often in hi-tech, to hire highly skilled workers from other countries to do things like computer engineering, bio-science, and medical professional work. His deal was that he got laid off by a major tech corporation, which replaced him with a cheaper professional from a poorer country. Before his last day on the job, he was required to train his replacement.

I felt frustrated and threatened to hear that this person was even considering supporting Trump – given his overall values and past voting history, it came as a shock. He also really likes Bernie. But he has come to think of all “establishment” candidates as part of a (legal) immigration system that makes it harder for him to get work in his field at a decent rate of pay. Bringing up the fact that he could easily stand for reform of the H1B-Visa program while still advocating for a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented, low-wage-earning immigrants may give him pause for thought, but my wife rightly observed that the emotional overlay for the whole subject of “immigration” writ large is clearly charged for him and may override other considerations. 

Unfortunately, immigration is a topic that falls into the category of a broken conversation. Meaning we have no way, in our mainstream culture, and very few ways in our alternative cultural settings, to have a healthy, constructive conversation about the issue. And in an election year this is an even more broken conversation.

I’m asking myself what might be the components of a not broken conversation – a constructive conversation. I think they include:

  • being able to name all of the stakeholders in an issue and have some understanding and empathy for their legitimate concerns and needs
  • searching for solutions that seek to balance different legitimate concerns
  • considering the different values that are at stake and different ways to balance them
  • refraining from black and white thinking or demonizing an entire stakeholding community

We have other broken conversations in this country. Like guns.

And Israel/Palestine is a thoroughly broken conversation, not just in the US but all over the world.

Broken conversations frighten me.

 

Abraham, Sarah, and the Arizona Immigration Law of 2010

Op-ed first appeared in The Oregonian on May 3, 2010 – see it here

In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, we read about Abraham and Sarah’s journey to the Promised Land. Shortly after they arrive, they encounter famine and head to Egypt in search of food. Foreigners without family or clan to protect them, they are afraid. Abraham asks Sarah to pretend to be his sister in the hope that this will help them avoid trouble — an act of deceit that made sense in the context of their times. The gamble works out badly. Pharaoh’s courtiers notice Sarah’s beauty, and the king summons her to his harem. Only divine intervention lets Sarah escape without having to sleep with the king.

It’s a pitiable story. Abraham and Sarah lie and humiliate themselves to try to survive in a foreign nation they have not received permission to enter. It must have been agonizing. It’s a story of strangers in a strange land, without protection, without connections and without a right to go about their business unmolested. It’s an illegal immigrant’s story.

Are things so different for America’s illegal, undocumented immigrants? And is the new Arizona law, which goes so far as to allow race and language to be a factor in police spot-checking peoples’ identity papers, a response that models the best of our society’s values?

Continue reading “Abraham, Sarah, and the Arizona Immigration Law of 2010”