When the Sea of Reeds split, there was a great divide. It was a good divide – for it allowed the Israelites to cross over from slavery into freedom. The divide allowed our People to begin their journey towards the Promised Land and all that it held for them – all that G-d had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Today, there is another a great divide. Unlike the one at the Sea of Reeds, though, I wouldn’t say this one is good. This is a divide that separates us from each other, that compartmentalizes the people of our country into different categories and groups; a divide that focuses on our differences more than our similarities. This divide does not honor the biblical verse, “va’yivra Elohim et-ha’adam bi’tzalmo, b’tzelem Elohim bara oto, zachar u’nikayva bara otam,” “And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
The divide is real; it exists. Denying this fact will not be helpful; burying our heads in the sand will accomplish nothing.
Rather, we need to acknowledge the reality with which we are confronted, the reality in which we live. And once we allow the divided state of our nation – and all its ramifications – to sink in and permeate our beings, we can then begin the work of repair, of action.
I must admit that I don’t know exactly what this looks like, but I do know what our tradition teaches; we have pillars of wisdom and strength to guide us:
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, “Justice, justice thou shalt pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)
Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mi’menah, “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to abandon it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn.” (Rabbi Hillel, Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a)
“What does God require of you? Only to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
“To humiliate a person is tantamount to shedding blood.” (Talmud, Baba Metzia 58b-59a)
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Gen 22:20)
“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1)
If we are to heal our divided nation, we must invest in our relationships; we must see the spark of the divine that dwells within every person, and we must remember the Israelites who wandered through the desert for 40 years. Once leaving Mitzrayim, the narrow places, the Israelites faced many challenges along the way. But they persevered and made it to the Promised Land.
If we follow their lead, and the precepts of Judaism, then we too will be able to face the challenges ahead of us, persevere, and work towards keeping the promises our great land has to offer.
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Shabbat candles should be lit on Fridays, November 18 at 5:10 p.m., November 25 at 5:06 p.m., December 2 at 5:05 p.m., December 9 at 5:05 p.m., December 16 at 5:06 p.m., December 23 at 5:09 p.m. and December 30 at 5:14 p.m.
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Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, the rabbi of Temple Shalom (Reform), has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.