I’ve been speaking often in the past months about the importance of not reducing complex issues to two opposing sides, a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ side, a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ side, but rather to challenge ourselves in these polarized times to think and speak in more complex ways. Judaism has always seen complexity in difficult issues, refusing to oversimplify, and insisting on honoring the value of debate and of opinions we don’t share.
Elu v’Elu Devarim
Words matter profoundly in Judaism. In many ways, the entire Talmud is one long argument over centuries about the meaning and power of words. We are called the “People of the Book” but it would perhaps be more accurate to call us a tradition that holds words and language sacred.
In Hebrew, the word for “words” is devarim. This week, in our Torah reading, we start the Book of Devarim, also known as Deuteronomy. It is the “Book of Words”.
From the time our people left Egypt until they crossed into the promised land, they wandered in the wilderness, a place neither here nor there, a place in-between, a liminal space. In Hebrew, there is a midrash that equate Egypt Mitzrayim, with the phrase min ha-meitzar, or from the narrow-places, from the abyss. In other words, to leave any form of bondage or oppression, we have to pass through a narrow place, through a wilderness, or what in simplest terms might mean “between a rock and a hard place.”
People ask, how was my time in Jerusalem?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These famous lines by Charles Dickens from his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” in many ways sum up not only my experience in Jerusalem, but I believe in some ways the state of the city that lies at the heart of Israel and the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors and Palestinian residents.
A MIGHTY REAL DIFFERENT SPIRIT – So I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago, and I had listened to all my Torah study podcasts, and I had listened to the Daily and Hidden Brain, and so I pulled over to look for something and noticed there was a new season of Making Gay History, and excellent podcast series featuring interviews with a wide variety of people who were pivotal in some aspect of the LGBT rights movement.
This season is all about the Stonewall Riots, so I thought, “perfect,” clicked, started listening and kept driving. By the time I got to Starksboro…
In our Torah Portion this week, there is lots of drama. Moses melts down and becomes a drama queen. Aaron and Miriam turn against Moses and God becomes a drama queen. But perhaps the greatest drama is the people’s obsession on getting some meat to eat.