Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Our rabbis of old ask an important question. They wonder what was the difference between Abraham and Noah. We may wonder why this is such a crucial question. Yet, when we look at the rise of both characters in our Torah past, we see similar accolades. About Noah, Torah teaches, “Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation.” (Gen. 6:9). And about Abraham, in last week’s portion, we learn, “Abraham was to walk in God’s ways and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1) At first glance, they are similar, almost seeming to be on the same level. Yet, Noah was blameless in his generation. There is a stark difference for when we pay closer attention to the generation of the flood, we are reminded that it was referred to as corrupt and lawless (Gen. 6:11). When the rabbis ask about the difference between Abraham and Noah, they understand the value of how others view our deeds and learn to compare and contrast the behaviors, attitudes and values of the two great people. Abraham’s legacy grows even more in this week’s Torah portion when he stands up to God. It is the moment when he argues with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this episode of Torah, we learn a great deal about Abraham and the legacy he leaves to us, what we must do in our own age. Abraham stood up to what he saw as an injustice, a moment when he questioned God and said, “Shall the judge of all the Earth not deal justly?” (Gen. 18:25)
This past week has provided us (okay inundated us) with opinions, views, anxieties, events, hatred and so much more on the national landscape. It is becoming harder (as if it wasn’t already hard enough) to sift through the information overload and make informed, educated and value based decisions. There is no secret that every source has some form of bent that must be understood, at least a little. As Sunday rolled into Monday, much of the Jewish world was up in arms about President-Elect Donald Trump’s engagement of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. This discontent is certainly also strong within our own community as I have responded to communication from our community members asking for a congregational response. It is not within my desires, nor is it legal, to speak for our community. Yet, I have been led to the belief that our community would like to know my response and whether it is echoing that of many Jewish organizations. So, I DO NOT speak for the congregation, but rather to our community as a friend and community member.
There is much that each of us must do to make our own informed decisions. However, I was inspired by a wise colleague of mine who put the reality clearly before me. What I read made it abundantly clear that this appointment may be an act of appreciation and loyalty. Yet, this individual bears the responsibility of communicating ideas and ideals antithetical to our Jewish value system. As the executive of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon bears responsibility for the hateful content of the site. With hateful headlines appearing under his leadership, it is enough to question and, for me, to speak against his role in our government. Some examples of such titles are, “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer,” “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: Women should log off,” or “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.”
When titles, and the accompanying articles, express hate, prejudice, racism and beyond, we must be vigilant to the way such information is understood, used and justified. It is our responsibility as Jews to always stand up for the stranger, the widow, the orphan and the oppressed….anywhere. Now, the purveyor of these “news” headlines and their hateful messages is engaged as a strategist for the highest office in our government and I must, as did Abraham, stand up and speak up. Whatever Mr. Bannon’s personal beliefs, he is culpable for spreading problematically hateful words. Our government, for and by the people, is no place for him. As Abraham questioned God, as the judge of all the Earth, I urge Mr. Trump, as our President-Elect, to relieve Mr. Steve Bannon, so that our government is not fettered by hateful rhetoric, or worse hateful behaviors.