From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
At one time or another, all of us have said, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” It’s an adage that could have been inspired by Torah, in the Book of Numbers. In this week’s portion, messengers were challenged to scout out the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites what they found there. All but two of the scouts came back and said, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size – and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:32ff).
These messengers brought back a report that condemned the whole search process and doomed the people’s faith that God would deliver them to the Promised Land. In case you didn’t know, the ten men who failed in their duty to convey their faith in God were killed by plague. However, Joshua and Caleb stood out among the men who returned. They reported an encouraging outlook that upheld God’s sanctity and the people’s ambition to enter the Promised Land. Caleb said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). Furthermore, Joshua and Caleb said to the people, “The land is exceedingly good; [it is] a land that flows with milk and honey.” (Numbers 14:7-8).
Many subsequent commentaries explored whether the messengers were accurate but irresponsible, or if Joshua and Caleb committed an early version of “bait and switch.” Do you think the other messengers were condemned too quickly for their accurate report? Do you think Joshua and Caleb overstated their observations only to encourage the people forward? Truth in advertising is a moral issue even if “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) makes us all responsible for the purchases we choose to make. Joshua and Caleb weren’t selling something they couldn’t produce. Instead, they represented their claims truthfully. They were men of faith. They believed that God would help them prevail. Human fear and anxiety were as real to the people as God’s presence was to Joshua and Caleb. The difference was that they believed that God’s presence could turn the people’s fear and anxiety into faith and confidence. There was no stopping the people from entering and possessing the Land as long as God went with them; and, God did.
Such faith can still inspire us. How many “Promised Lands” have you thought about entering in your lifetime? How many forks in the road have you encountered? You didn’t move forward because you thought you were doomed. You moved forward because you believed that the next step was going to be better than the last or better than other alternatives. Perhaps you found your way because you believed that God would be with you there. Perhaps you found your way because you simply believed that you made a tough but good decision. I would suggest that somewhere down deep inside you, you hoped. You hoped and even prayed a little that you would make the right choice. After shutting out all the noise and clutter, it was in that silent place you went within yourself where you listened to a “still small voice” and found the answer to the question, “Do I stay, or do I go?”
That “still small voice” has a source. It’s called “Kol d’mama dakah”, literally, the voice of a thin silence, or informally, utter silence. We first learn about it in the place where the Prophet Elijah found God. When Elijah fled King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he hid in the desert and “there was a great and mighty wind that split mountains and shattered rocks” but “God was not in the wind” that passed; “God was not in the earthquake” that shook the ground; “God was not in the fire” that burned and consumed everything. God was in the “kol d’mama daka” the utter silence that followed all the noise. That’s where Elijah found God.
Joshua and Caleb weren’t petty salesmen. They led the people forward with faith that was beyond the mountains and the rivers; it was beyond demonstrations of wind and fire. Faith was where it always has been though it’s rarely seen or felt or heard. It lies deep within. In the “Kol d’mama dakah” the utter silence, we discover the Source of faith that can bring us forward and lift us up.
Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” More wisely, Torah and the Prophets teach us that we don’t have to succumb to circumstances. We have to listen to the “still small voice” which is the hope that resides within all of us. Then as Joshua and Caleb did, we can choose wisely and say, “Let us by all means go up!”
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi
The roots of violence against the LGBT community can be found in common places. An unfit leader in the community, an outspoken politician on the stump, a brash preacher in the pulpit, or an unaware parent at home is all it takes to transform God’s hope for humanity into our basest human instincts.
It can even begin when the religious-right defines “pro-life” as virulently anti-abortion and then fails to keep its promise to all the children they save. Life, they insist, begins at conception. Pro-lifers insist that every fetus should be brought to term and delivered into this world. Especially when children emerge with physical, mental or emotional challenges, such pro-lifers provide them with care and compassion. I laud them for their unconditional love. But, when children grow and then express LGBT tendencies or traits, some pro-lifers condemn them in the harshest of terms. They expel even their own LGBT children like they were lepers and deny them God’s love and compassion they retain for themselves. They pervert religion’s beauty at its Source, where God’s love lifts up and never puts down a single human life. What I want to know is when does God’s act of creation, which they believe begins at conception, become a spectacle for human judgment?
Judaism sanctifies life but it hasn’t adopted the term “pro-life.” It has to be “pro-choice” because after careful consideration often with the help of a rabbi, Judaism permits abortion under specific conditions. For example, a fetus identified with a genetic disorder (Tay-Sachs, Canavan or Gaucher disease, Muscular Dystrophy, etc.), which can leave a child with a painful or very poor quality of life, might be aborted early in the pregnancy. My wife’s brother died of Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 17. When we began our own family we did genetic testing. We decided that any fetus with the genetic mutation for MD would be aborted. Though her family surrounded her brother with love, she and I agreed that we wouldn’t bring a child to term if we knew he would be bound for premature death due to a terminal illness. Without being arbitrary, Judaism provides pathways for choosing what the parents are able to provide and what we can know through science is possible for the child. Pro-choice isn’t supposed to be easy; it’s supposed to incline human beings to respect faithfully the potential in every life and to safeguard it for a life of blessing rather than death.
So, let’s consider that if genetic testing could tell potential parents that their child would grow to be LGBT, would pro-lifers still accept the child as God’s creation? Or would they condemn the child in utero, long before God’s creative acts were expressed not just in sexuality but in art, science, love and family? One day, genetic testing will be able to tell us if a child will grow to be LGBT; but if pro-lifers are truly faithful, then the answer to the question should be unremarkable to them. Any child whose life begins at conception under the watchful eye of God would necessarily have to be a blessing and worthy of human love, compassion and dignity. No pro-lifer could condemn the child as if God had erred. What would be left then of God?
A gay member of my congregation feeling scared about the future wrote to me, “In reality, it’s not any different than terror attacks in Tel Aviv, Paris, or Baghdad, but like 9/11 and San Bernardino, we as Americans don’t expect it on our doorstep. Hate is hate; terror is terror. If we succumb, they win.” I replied, “Of one thing I feel fairly certain: Americans will not succumb to terrorists. Though these days are difficult, they will not define us.” The roots of violence against the LGBT community are easy to locate. We must work together to advocate for a change of heart and mind wherever bigotry, homophobia, and hate are planted.
My faith acknowledges that we are all created in God’s image. It enables me to see in the variety of God’s creations something that remains, at times, beyond my comprehension, as it should be, and leaves me in awe. The challenge of human beings is to strive to find within oneself and others something that is inherently God-given and therefore very good. May we never squander what God has granted us to know nor forsake the responsibility of faith to discover what God created us to be.
On Friday, June 17th, at 6:30pm, in the Gordon Chapel at Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, we will include special blessings and songs to sanctify life, diversity, and dignity for the LGBT community and all who stand with them (www.beth-israel.org). All are Welcome.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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