Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The Prophet Micah (8th c BCE) said to the Israelites, “Remember what Balak, king of Moab, plotted against You (in the past), and how Balaam responded to him, and you will recognize the gracious acts of the Lord.” Seeing that their safe journey in the past and now in Judah could be due to God’s handiwork, Micah addresses the Israelite’s response with increasingly powerful rhetorical questions, “With what shall I approach the Lord: Do homage to God on high?” “Shall I approach him with burnt offerings? Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriads of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for my own sin?”
Micah builds this literary tension and then delivers the punch, “It has been told you, O mortal, what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you – only this: to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
The brilliance of Micah’s contribution to Israelite life leads to an unprecedented and richly new approach to serving God. Now the unblemished deed (justice, mercy and humility) is as important as the unblemished sacrifice. After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, the southern kingdom of Judah was threatened. Micah believed that if Judah’s leaders didn’t serve God, they would be destroyed. Their salvation would be found in deeds of social justice rather than sacrifices.
Justice. Mercy. Humility. These three values would be enough to assuage God’s wrath and earn God’s love. These three values are timeless and timely. They are the way forward for us, too. In our complex world of ISIS abroad, anti-Semitism stretching across the world, strained race relations at home, and deep political mistrust and partisanship in our nation, we cannot expect to be rid of them with prayer, alone. Vigils and prayer rallies have their place, but unless we can translate words into actions, and real service to God through intentional acts of political will and personal conviction, then it will all be for naught. The issues that tear apart our cities and threaten our political system will be best addressed by serious leaders who are willing and able to face these crises squarely and honestly. They don’t have to seek God’s input or wait for God’s call to them before they act; rather, they and we have already been told what is good and what God requires of us; only this: to do justly, and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
We have examples of leaders who do find clarity in the aftermath of tragic events in our nation and elsewhere in the world. A great example of clarity is the prayer that Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu El, in Dallas, offered at a gathering of faith leaders following last week’s tragedy there. Rabbi Stern is a highly respected rabbi and is president-elect of the CCAR. You can find his prayer at www.tedallas.org. Rabbi Stern, like many of my finest colleagues, doesn’t sport his achievements with personal promotion on Facebook; rather, his messages are shared on social media by those who are personally moved by them.
Knowing the difference between showmanship and leadership marks a starting point from which all reasonable people can work together to honor the prophecy of Micah, with clear and intentional deeds that foster greater peace. We begin at home. What example will you set this week? How will you demonstrate justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God? If not now, when?