I am going to blame it in the Muslims. It is the all the Muslims fault.
I had every intention of not taking this sacred time of mine – that you entrust to me – to talk about the political season, the election. Knowing when the New Year would fall this year, knowing that the election season would be approaching a crescendo … I knew that I had a choice to make. I don’t make it a practice regularly speak to you on politics. I do so when I believe that addressing a spiritual aspect of whatever is happening is needed. I do so when I believe that I feel I need to add something to the societal conversation. I do so when I believe that there is a concern, a fear or a loss or anxiety that we as a community need acknowledged. After serious consideration, I did not think I had anything to add to this conversation – a lot of thoughtful, intelligent people have been contributing plenty already. I did not think that our community needed any help finding clarity or perspective on the nature of this political season.
And then, along came the Muslims …
One week ago yesterday, on Sunday morning, I found myself at Masjid Taqwa – the Northeast Denver Islamic Center here in North Park Hill. I was there at the invitation of my colleague Imam Abdur Rahim Ali. Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to congress, was in town to meet with some Denver Muslim community leaders. Imam Ali invited me and a handful of other non-Muslim colleagues to sit in on the meeting. I listened a lot. Congressman Ellison spoke about the importance of getting out the vote. He did not endorse or push the Democratic candidate, but simply appealed to Muslim values and the need to respond to the prejudice, anger and hatred directed at his community during the election. Those leaders in attendance listened, too … and then talked about their challenges and hopes in leading their communities to stand up and participate at this crucial moment in our country’s history.
I was one of only a handful of non-Muslims in the room. I was only one of two white skinned people in the room. I was the only Jew in the room. And yet, I felt very much at home. I was moved by the congressman’s eloquence and passion. I was humbled by the array of leaders in the room. Here were people – perhaps with different titles or different ways to name the organizations they led – seeking the exact same things that we would seek and fight for, too.
The Muslims at Masjid Taqwa inspired me. I was inspired by the simple clarity of the Congressman’s ‘get out and be heard’ message of empowerment. I was inspired by the palpable sense in the room that these individuals seemed buoyed and energized by being reminded of their tradition’s highest vision for themselves. I was inspired by the way this collection of souls that morning so contradicted the images and narratives that it seems our world is presenting … about muslims, about our country and about ourselves.
Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning. It was the Muslims. They did not scare, threaten or intimidate me. They inspired me. Why do we gather together on this day in this way? Perhaps one reason is that we can be a forgetful bunch. I believe we come together to remind us of our best selves and our greatest visions. There are many external and internal voices that get in the way of our knowing and remembering these highest aspirations. So, we get together to remember … to be inspired and to be empowered. Historically, we are in a moment that we all need to be awake, aware and as alive as possible. We gather together to say the words, sing the songs, hear the ideas and listen for the sounds that wake us up.
And for my part, in my role in the life of our community, our Muslims friends have inspired me to remind us of our truths this morning.
We are a community of souls who are not bullies and we stand up to bullies. It does not matter if this bully operates on the playground or on the campaign trail, we stand up to those who manipulate with fear upon our insecurities. I am not speaking about someone or others with whom we have a severe ideological difference. (After all, aren’t we the people who boast that it is cool when 2 people have 3 opinions?) I am speaking about the blatant and violent disregard for the other — whether the other is defined by gender, ethnicity, nationality or socio-economic status.
It may not be any more simply put than in the story of creation – on our minds today, the birthday of the world. When the human being is created, Torah teaches us that human beings are all created B’tselem Elohim – in the divine image. We need no reframing or rationalizing, each and every soul on this planet possess that divine spark. Period. No discussion. Confronting those who seem to at best ignore and at worst extinguish the spark is our continual work in this world. No one, but no one is without it. When we witness those who might forget this … and belittle, diminish or seek to minimize the other – we have no choice.
We are taught in Torah: Remember the stranger, for you, too were strangers in the land of Egypt. We are taught by our Sages: In a place where (it seems like) no one is acting like a human being, be a human being, be a mentsch! Or to echo the words of our First Lady, “When they go low, we go high.” Even when it seems the deniers of the divine spark are many and we are few – we must remember: We are a community of souls who are not bullies and we stand up to bullies.
Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning …
We are a community of souls who have power … and the privilege and responsibility that comes along with it. In the landscape of this political season this power is most easily recognized by opportunity to vote. Voting is but one of the ways we can participate in the political process. To not vote or to abdicate our rights to lobby or organize or simply hound our elected representatives is a gross negligence of the power we have. It is understandable to feel overcome and overwhelmed by feelings of impotence and insignificance as we look at the way money, big business, lobbyists or extreme voices seem to manipulate our societal destiny. It is also inaccurate and untrue.
Back to that same birthday of the world, creation story. When the mystics read the account of the creation of the human being, they see more than a bedtime story about the birth of the first man or woman. They teach that it was not a human being of flesh and blood, but a primordial template or software, if you will, for the whole universe. They called it called Adam Kadmon – the Original Person. This Adam Kadmon serves as a kind of cosmic infrastructure that weaves in and out and connects each and every human being. A part of that Adam Kadmon lives within each and every one of us. So much so, that each of our actions — negative or positive – impacts that cosmic infrastructure. According to this mystic wisdom, we are all ‘wirelessly’ connected into the same system — a system that transcends time and space. Every act — even the ones we see as little, small or insignificant — changes the cosmic wiring of the universe. There are no actions without influence, there are no people without power. Possessing power does not immune us from feelings of fatigue or frustration. At the end of the day, we neglect or negate this reality at our own peril.
Our Torah teaches us: You are holy, because the Source of Your Being, is Holy. Our Sages teaches us: When you save one soul, you save an entire world, when you destroy one soul, you destroy an entire world. American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, taught it in a different way: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Even if the world seems to tell us that we are feel powerless and insignificant, we must remember … We are a community of souls who have power … and the privilege and responsibility that comes along with it.
Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning …
We are a community of souls who look at the world and see its capability, not its inability. We do not have to look far to find the messengers that will tell us that not only that the sky is falling, but it is falling fast and furiously. Some of this message comes to us from external voices – like the ones from the political campaign. These voices chide us for not experiencing the same amount of the power, status and success that we once enjoyed. This message warns us of the countries, groups and individuals who are out to get us. Some of this message comes from interval voices. When we hear the preponderance of those external voices, the internal ones warn us to fear the consequences for us as Jews and minority. In the shadow of our Jewish narrative, we fret and worry, wondering about our safety and security. In this cacophony of noise, we have little bandwidth left to anticipate anything but the worst.
The wisdom of our tradition – even at our darkest moments – pushes us in this direction of seeing more. When we stand at the grave of a loved one … we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. You may have heard me say it once or a hundred times, there is no mention of death in this prayer. It speaks of the Source of life … and the blessings of life: the experience of the holy, of joy and of peace. At a moment of profound darkness, pain, anger, loneliness and emptiness … the Jewish tradition says: Hey! pay attention to life! In this moment when what we have lost and lack seems so monumental, this wisdom guides us: Remember, embrace and cultivate life! Perhaps it is our human or even our animal nature for threats and fears to gather all of our attention. It is our divine nature that compels us to see the full picture.
Our Torah teaches us: I have placed before you blessing and curse, life and death – Choose life. Our Sages teach us: There is no thing that does not have its place, no person who has not their moment. Anne Frank put it this way: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” At this darkening historical moment, when it seems that the worst of our human nature dominates the stage … we must remember that we are a people who see our gifts and our opportunities, we are a people who see possibility and life, We are a community of souls who look at the world and see its capability, not its inability.
Yes it is our Muslims friends who have inspired me to speak our truths this morning … but it is for us and all of our friends that we must remember and act upon them. We all need to be awake, aware and alive as possible. Whatever words, songs or sounds get our attention … let us speak, sing and proclaim them. The last sound we will hear this morning — will the sound that spiritually summons them all — the sound of the Shofar.
As we hear its piercing, startling sounds …
May the shofar wake us up, heighten our awareness and aliveness. May the shofar startle us to pay attention to the possibility and urgency of this moment of our lives, of this moment in history. May the shofar urge us on to deeply embody our truths and take this opportunity to stand up to bullies, to wisely exercise our power; and to maturely look out at the world and see not what frightens us, but what inspires us, not our curses, but our blessings, not death, but life.