From its earliest days, Judaism has existed in contrast to one prevailing culture or another. Jews are perennially "inside-outsiders" who participate in their broader communities but always at something of a remove. This isn't a bug but rather a feature of our tradition, providing the key ingredient to our ongoing ability to add our particular truth to the project of human flourishing.
Leadership is not a position; it's an activity. Our tradition calls us to exercise leadership even and especially when it's difficult or uncomfortable. Stories both personal and traditional help illustrate this them.
Parashat Tazria-Metzora deals famously with the disease known as tzaraat, translated (not entirely accurately) as leprosy. The image of the isolated leper is a familiar one, but the Torah insists that the reintegration is the ideal. No one should be separated forever, and it is upon us to go to the margins of society to reach out to those who have been cast off--even if for good reason--to welcome them back to the whole the moment they're ready to return.
In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, I focus this year on his message of service. "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve."
Earlier this week, President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, igniting opprobrium and applause from around the world. How are we to think about this announcement? Is it a game changer or mere rhetoric? Does it derail any hope for peace or revitalize a stalled process? Reasonable people disagree on the matter, and I hope to learn from people of all sides in informing my own opinion. At the end of the day, it's crucial that regardless how we feel on this issue, we continue to speak peaceably with one another so that our disagreements don't tear us apart but rather ennoble and enrich us and our community.
Too often, struggles with fertility are relegated to the unseen corners of our communal conversation. But these challenges face so many of us, who, like our ancestors, seek guidance and support in finding ways to "be fruitful and multiply." Our tradition is a treasure trove of stories and resources that might inspire our community to enhance its sympathy and compassion for families who struggle with fertility.
Civil discourse often proves elusive in our society, especially in the current moment. Jewish tradition has much to offer America at large as a tradition committed to honorable dissent and respectful, collaborative disagreement.
In today's society, it can be extremely hard to change your mind and especially to do so publicly. But changing one's mind is both an American virtue and a Jewish ideal. You don't have to "switch sides" or abandon your former position completely; but as great leaders have shown us, thinking in new ways about an important issue can enrich our own lives and bring healing to the world around us.
This year's Yom Kippur message focuses on antisemitism in the alt-right. The Jewish community feels vulnerable, more so than at other times in recent memory, and this vulnerability gives us empathy with other groups whose standing in society is much more precarious than our own. Interfaith and multi-racial alliance with other targeted communities will be essential to our genuine and effective resistance.
God loves you.
God is close to you.
And it's going to be okay.
We respond to God's love by dedicating ourselves to a life of service. We serve God with our intellect, our passions, and our deeds both public and private. As a new year dawns, we commit ourselves to refining and strengthening the ways we serve God in order to enrich ourselves, those around us, and the world we live in.
“To be effective, the preacher's message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God's present voice to a particular people.”