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[KE CyberTorah] Change the Spirit, Change the World



Change the Spirit, Change the World

Being holy is expressed through how we treat one another. When God offers us instructions on holiness, God begins with tzedakah and fair weights and measures, not meditation or prayer. Having the patience and humility to create space for others enables us to notice God’s image in the world around us. When we act justly and with integrity to our neighbors, we are inviting God to dwell in this world.

Recently, we have been reminded of unholiness, of hillul hashem, acts that drive God out of the world. Even now, a year later, when I see images of George Floyd’s murder, I am heart broken. How can an officer of the law behave so violently, so without thought, so without awareness of the human being in front of him?

I am heartbroken when my Black friends remind me that yes, every day, they have a different relationship to a police cruiser than I. We live in a culture that tolerates violence, both in words and deeds, in ways that drive God out of our lives and out of our culture. The Talmud talks about how war and famine create a fertile environment for the Destroyer. In other words, when violence is unleashed, it becomes indiscriminate. To fight that violence requires spiritual growth just as much as legal reform.

Being holy includes keeping the Shabbat. Shabbat is a time to be rather than do, a day of setting limits on our ego to create room for others and for God. Shabbat is a day to be present with those immediately around us and be reminded of the enlivening power of holy community. Shabbat gives us the chance to breathe and heal so that we have the resources to act.

We need to see. Healing will come only when history is taught in a whole way. Certain moments of persecution and hatred have been suppressed, whether against Blacks, Asians, or Jews. I never knew about the pogrom in Tulsa until reading about it in the Wall Street Journal three years ago. And I didn’t realize the depth of what happened until I saw it dramatized in the HBO series, Watchmen, last year. I saw planes dropping Molotov cocktails on Black people and thought it an exaggeration. I was simply wrong. Similarly, the meaning of Japanese internment was lost on me until I was in Seattle and saw a monument to what we as a country had done. Change requires honesty. We have to see.

When we see, we open our hearts in understanding and love. We can find holiness only when we see the humanity in every person, when we set aside our ego to realize that we are all created in God’s image. God wants to be invited into our world and we do that through seeing our shared humanity.

We must allow hard questions. Orthodoxies of belief, suppression of challenging ideas, will inevitably lead to new forms of oppression and bigotry. Violent rhetoric, whatever its origin, must be driven out of our culture in favor of a language of compassion and justice. We get there by modeling such speech in our own life. 

As Jews, we pray for a day that is all Shabbat. We yearn for and struggle to build a day where we can breathe again because we are seeking healing and understanding. We pursue justice to create a space big enough for all, able to hold onto differing views and ideologies and races and creeds, knowing that it is through this hard work that we invite God’s presence into our lives.

Shabbat Shalom-
Rabbi David Booth

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784