Below is an excerpt from what I shared as my opening remarks. Read the entire text here.
I speak today and most days because I am responsible to my ancestors and also to my descendants. I speak today out of my responsibility for my own micro Jewish community that is Kadima – a 45+ year-old community founded to be a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in the progressive community. And I also speak tonight out of responsibility for my Jewish siblings everywhere. I am here responsible to the many people whom myself and others with my identities as a white, able bodied, cis-straight European heritage male rabbi have a particular history and present of harming. I am here responsible both for and to myself as a mender of relationships and a world repair worker, starting first and foremost where I have relationships, proximity, and any influence. And today and for the last two decades I speak out of my responsibility to those over whom the State of Israel wields military power and violence, namely, the Palestinian people.
The idea of responsibility, as we will each discuss today, is critical in Jewish tradition and in my understanding of my life as a Jew and as a human. In a society such as ours, we are barely encouraged to be responsible for ourselves. Maybe for our kids. Perhaps for our pets. But even this is tenuous where avoiding responsibility is the goal of many of our leaders and avoiding responsibility ensures that the ruling class continues to profit from exploiting the earth’s resources at the expense of anyone who gets in the way. Responsibility is not something we are really taught to take, in my experience of growing up wealthy and assimilated in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, I feel like I have been taught in the United States that taking responsibility is for goody goodies and suckers. And this is part of how we continue to live in a society where we have not taken responsibility for the vulnerable, for the power-stripped, for the marginalized, and for the exploited. Where people literally and figuratively get away with murder.
Responsibility, as our discussion here is framed, may just be a way out of this mess.
Jewish tradition offers us something different than the United States culture I grew up assimilated into – a third generation of my family born in this place. Many Jews find dissonance in the tension we feel in our bones and in, as my grandmother would say, in our kishkes. The tension is that we are remarkably encouraged in Jewish thought, wisdom, text, and culture, to take responsibility not for no one, but indeed for everyone! For interdependence is a core teaching of our ancient tradition.
As we consider responsibility in the week of parashat Tetzaveh, we are told of the lamps to be kindled regularly, or, in Hebrew, l’ha’alot ner tamid. This “ner tamid” has inspired the lamps that have existed in synagogues for hundreds of years as a symbol of the divine’s steadfast presence in Jewish gathering spaces and might for us serve as a reminder of our ever present responsibility to live out, protect, and evolve our Jewish values and tradition. As we continue to fight for ceasefire, may the fire continue to be kindled that guides us in our work toward justice and peace.