What does one do with a cruel email whose last line says: “Do not respond?” How can real understanding be reached, real progress be made, or any real friendship, marriage, family, Temple, city, or nation survive if our ears and hearts are not open to each other; choosing instead to listen only to ourselves? Life, like the news, becomes a series of angry monologues. Monologues are often self-righteous, narcissistic even. They require no open heart, only a closed mind. And they will not heal our nation so wounded now and in need of repair.
More than one hundred years ago the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber would have responded to “Do not respond” by reminding us all, "Human life and humanity come into being in genuine encounters. The hope for this hour depends upon the renewal of the immediacy of dialogue among human beings." He was right then, and he is right now.
The musical poem in this week’s Torah portion is one of, if not the, oldest poem in all of Jewish literature--written roughly 3,000 years ago. Our ancestors sang this poem after successfully escaping Pharaoh's army by crossing the Sea of Reeds. The fact that we chant it this week from the Torah gives this Shabbat the special name "Shabbat Shira--the Sabbath of Song."
Very nice rabbi, but what does that have to do with angry emails, monologues on the news, and the state of our nation? Well, here's the really interesting thing about that ancient poem; although the people sang it together, the song was written in the first person--many voices, all proclaiming "I." That is, after all, what music is about right? Many different notes played together to form a more complex and richer whole. Could it be that's what Judaism is about, that’s what this country is about and that’s what life is really about too?
There will always be schisms in religion, politics, and civic life. For Jews there will always be the other synagogue we won't set foot in, the rabbi we don’t agree with, the committee decision to which we object. Sure, we will always read from the same Torah but we will also often understand it in totally different ways. If we respect and appreciate each other rather than demonize and malign each other, our differences will be our strength. The Talmud is nothing if not a carefully recorded, centuries-long civil discourse between schools of scholars with each person and each position treated as sacred.
The Los Angeles Unified School district has 92 languages spoken among its students. There are 44 different languages spoken within a one-mile radius of our Glazer campus. Estimates are that by 2045 America will cease to have a Caucasian majority, or any ethnic majority. If we respect and appreciate each other that will be our strength. If not, it will be our ruin.
Let's embrace every "I" in our song; every voice singing out to God in notes sharp and flat, harmonious and discordant—reform, conservative, orthodox, caucasian, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, young and old, man and woman, LGBTQ, Jew, Christian, Muslim, humanist, atheist, agnostic, and more…
Tonight and every day thereafter in this era too often poisoned by I care not what you think and “do not respond” let us sing out from our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, and our hearts. Yes, sing your note from the top of your lungs for all the world to hear. But for God’s sake and our nation’s too, be a part of the chorus, because together we sing a more glorious song.
Love and Shabbat Shira shalom,