As I was on the phone with one of my rabbinic mentors the other day debriefing the Poway shooting, I cried. I was processing my complex feelings about the current timeframe we find ourselves in, where I feel pulled between determined, militant hope and a life-sapping despair. ‘You look tired’, she said, and I knew she was right.
‘Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aaron is silent. It is strange that Moses spoke and Aaron held his tongue. After all, it was Moses who struggled with speech. It was Moses who was fearful of appearing before Pharaoh lest he could not find the words. It was Moses who was ‘heavy of tongue’. Aaron, presumably in league with Miriam, was the older sibling: the one rooting for Moses and coaching him. It was Aaron who, at crucial moments, did find the words. But not now.
I am proud to be part of the liberal Jewish project that seeks to pursue justice, amplify the voices of the marginalized and bring us its own rich spirituality – inclusive, open minded, critical – to our People. At the same time, there is virtue and value in being challenged in the views we often take for granted. Of course our community needs an inspiring Torah, and uplifting Torah. But we also need a dangerous Torah.
We are intimately familiar with such rabbinic practices such as lighting candles, Kiddush and singing zemirot, Sabbath songs, at the table. We have ingrained the notion of the home as a mishkan me’at, a small sanctuary, and the table at which we eat as the mizbe’ach, the altar. In our individual lives, we may or may not make decisions about what we do or do not observe. Be what may: in our tradition, Shabbat is a presence we cannot deny.
Brokenness is a universal human experience: everyone has encountered brokenness in their lives, their world or in themselves. Of course, while brokenness is the great leveler, our experience of brokenness is not a level playing field. Some of us are subjected to greater trauma than others; some of us may have more access or resources to heal from or repair the brokenness we face. Nonetheless, I’d wager to say that as I give this sermon, there will a number of you who are encouraged to reflect on what is broken in your lives. It seems as inevitable as death.
Engaging with difference should not be mistaken with accepting a doctrine of moral equivalency or finding ‘common ground.’ We do not need to paper over our differences. We can be strong in our moral convictions. Yet there is a distinction between moral courage and moral absolutism. We must invite shades of grey.
We are all called to make Torah our own. This means letting the stories speak to our own lives and bringing our lives to the Torah. Part of being a fully-fledged Jewish citizen – which is what the Bat and Bar Mitzvah process is about – is taking ownership of that legacy. It is yours, mine, ours: the province of all who journey to her.
As I was typing this sermon, my two beauteous children were chasing each other with foam swords, the living room looks like toys exploded all over it and an ever-insurmountable pile of dishes is guilt-tripping us into washing them. These are of course not the images that make it into the family album or onto the social media account. It is not the story we are comfortable telling about ourselves.