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.
Preparing to act out the exodus from Egypt, the Second Grade made pictures of the burning bush and of the 10 plagues. Their teacher added the Hebrew words, and the whole class acted out each plague, hopping for fogs and scratching their heads for lice. They turned out the lights of hoshekh (darkness).
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.
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.