Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
“Diversity will be a non-issue and humanity will be highlighted as our 21st century achievement.”
Civility is missing, today. It’s not a political statement. It’s an observation. Only a recluse would be oblivious to the increase in racism, bigotry, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Many discussions have been held to remedy it and many more classes are being planned to address it. In truth, there is an antidote for the lack of civility, but it’s a high price that too many are unwilling to pay and few are ready to accept.
In Torah, we learn that we are holy. Yes, Leviticus 19:2 makes it clear, “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal, am holy.” By virtue of our being created in the image of God, we are set apart for a special purpose. Though animals and all living things are also created by God, they are not conscious of that creative act; thus, they are destined to be only what they are. Only we are conscious of God’s acts of creation, which makes us more than ordinary and especially able to aspire to be holy.
If we do, then we accept that that gift of holiness finds its source in God. It becomes a reason to be grateful. It also becomes a reason to be humbled by its meaning for us. And, it leaves room for us to see God’s acts of creation in others, too, whether or not they are just like us. In Judaism, we praise God for creating a variety of creations. If we can accept the premise that God created a variety of creations, then there’s room for us to find holiness in all people.
From such faith in God’s creative acts, it’s possible to see great potential in our neighbors, newcomers, strangers, and immigrants. Rather than demean God’s acts, we would honor them with careful attention to their wants and needs, and their hopes and aspirations. Though we might have more wealth and creature comforts than they have, such material goods are not measures of our humanity; they’re measures of our opportunities and good fortune (mazel). Generations have passed since our ancestors were in the same or similar situations, but it hasn’t changed our moral obligation to see in others what God created in them, too.
The result of placing ourselves in proper perspective to God and God’s creations is that respect for another’s place and predicament rises, and our concern for their life and well-being grows. Without racism, bigotry, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, we can see in others what God, not we, created there. We have only the moral obligation to honor those whom we encounter. The ultimate outcome is greater civility.
When we see differences between us and others, we won’t mistake their Source, and we won’t overestimate our place among them. Diversity will be a non-issue and humanity will be highlighted as our 21st century achievement. It’s easy to write about platitudes, but it’s commanded of us by our Judaism to aim for it every day. It’s a transgression to ignore the holiness created equally within all of us. Though Torah was given to the Israelite people and transmitted from generation to generation of Jews, it was not to be used as a means to discriminate; it was a means to highlight our exceptional responsibility to find holiness in all the earth and its inhabitants.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST, and he is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com.