Sunday, January 22, 2017

Honesty vs. Lying: Rosh Hashanah Morning 5777

This sermon was delivered on October 3rd, 2016 during the Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon's Rosh Hashanah Morning Service, ahead of the election of the 45th president of the United States on November 8th. After the January 21st White House press briefing and the January 22nd Meet The Press interview claiming "Alternative Facts," the distinctions between Truth and Fact and Honesty and Lying are again/still being blurred. 


A great sage once taught: “Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace) This sage, of course, was none other than Yoda, the lovable and wise Jedi master from the Star Wars movies. 

Yoda shares this timeless teaching with a young Anakin Skywalker in the midst of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, as the Jedi council determines if Anakin is worthy of being trained as a Jedi. Yoda and the other Jedi sense fear in Anakin’s heart, fear of losing his mother and fear of losing those he cares about. They worry that this fear may cause trouble in the future, foreshadowing Anakin’s eventual turn to the dark side as {spoiler alert} Darth Vader. 

Fear, anger, hate, and suffering are all feelings that could lead each of us towards darkness. How ironic, then, that Jewish tradition has noted these as true concerns regarding human nature, describing it as the eternal tension between the yetzer ha-ra, the “evil inclination,” and the yetzer ha-tov, the “inclination towards goodness.”

Further, the Jewish Mystical tradition of Lurianic Kabbalah, teaches that evil is able to exist in our world due to a shattering that occurred at the time of creation; the fractures of which remain open, due to, among other things, these elements of fear, anger, hatred and suffering. The Kabbalists assert that these elements of evil emanated from one side of God’s powers of judgement. It is, then, our duty as Jews, and as human beings, to use our powers of judgment in order to complete the process of tikkun; of healing and repair, in order to keep the dark side of judgment in check and, if we’re strong enough, to eliminate it completely.

But as is the human condition, our own personal judgment, and our sense of right and wrong is, in many ways, shaped by the society that we live in, the philosophies and ideologies we subscribe to, and the people we choose to hold close as role models.

Throughout the Star Wars prequels, we see this tension of the yetzer ha-ra and yetzer ha-tov and the struggle to trust one’s own judgment in the character of Anakin Skywalker. The fear, the concern, the suffering, and the hatred are all present. Yet even with all of these feelings, Anakin was able, for a time, to keep the dark side at bay.

Anakin finally succumbed to the dark side because of the evil Emperor, who, from the time Anakin was young, was among his mentors and friends. The Emperor capitalized on Anakin’s feelings and manipulated him through misleading information and false promises. Through this process, Anakin was made to mistrust the governing body of the republic and the Jedi council. In short, Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader because he was repeatedly lied to by a powerful figure that he trusted and that he looked to for advice and leadership. 

Unfortunately, much of that same dynamic appears to be playing itself out in our society on a daily basis; a matter that is most prominently highlighted by the current political campaigning as we approach November.

In 2012, as the Presidential campaign that pitted President Barack Obama against former Governor Mitt Romney was building steam, the phenomenon of fact-checking seemingly took center stage. In my sermon during the Kol Nidre evening service on Yom Kippur of that same year, I shared with you my concerns over the need for fact-checkers, and my hope that our society could be one based in reality. In that sermon I re-introduced us to the word “truthiness,” created and popularized by Stephen Colbert, and taking on an actual dictionary definition as: “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”  I went on to explain the difference, as I saw it, between the words truth and fact. Truth can either “come from a reality of fact, or an idealism of story or faith,” whereas fact “has only one definition: a thing that is indisputably the case.” I also asserted my observation that truth, in 2012’s “overwhelming notion of it, [was] derived from ideologies or philosophies.”

One passage from that sermon continues to stand out as a cautionary note:

Eric W. Dolan, a writer for “The Raw Story,” an online news outlet, wrote…in August [of 2012] that scientists have discovered that Colbert’s idea of “truthiness” is not just a joke. The idea that one can present a story devoid of real supporting evidence, and convince people to actually believe that claim, is very apparent with regards to the human psyche. In multiple studies, researchers have discovered that more and more people will ignore facts in favor of convincing stories with dubious support.

This natural human inclination towards believing something in their gut, rather than with tangible proof, represents a danger to diversified societies.

Now, four years later, I am disheartened that my concerns were not only warranted, but also that this phenomenon has become even more dangerous for our country. In 2012 I was concerned about the ways that the candidates seemed to play fast and loose with facts, either using the same facts to present differing truths, or ignoring facts completely in favor of truths found in their personal or religious ideologies. Even the process of spinning can, in part, be explained as a vehicle of truth, explaining how facts or recent events fit into a narrative that one believes to be true. Today, however, the campaign has gone beyond the mere distinction between truths and facts and the process of spinning. Instead it has brought to the forefront a conflict that for most of us, I am sure, was not really in doubt: the conflict between honesty and lying. 

I define honesty as speaking the truth; either a truth rooted in facts, religious or philosophical narratives, or some combination of the two. When people are honest they are speaking out of a sense of concern and a sincere effort to make a positive impact on the world. In this same sense, Jewish tradition also looks favorably upon “white lies” for they are also told “l’shem shamayim” for the sake of heaven so that words and actions may either spare another from getting hurt or, in extreme cases, protect lives.

I define lying, however, as deliberately speaking untruths, rooted in fantasy or, perhaps, even anger or dissatisfaction to either cause harm to others or work to further selfish needs; or, in some cases, both.

We have seen the problems, the violence, and the further worldly fractures that have been caused by outright lies in this campaign.

When a candidate’s rhetoric deepens the divide between Americans; when a candidate’s mis-leading, and often false accusations fuels the hatred that is already present and leads to violence; when the only truths that a candidate offers are based on a self-created, self-serving, narcissistic narrative; when a candidate can openly deny saying or doing something when video recordings, screen shots, and even hard copy media provide facts to the contrary; and when the media will acknowledge all of this, yet still cover the hatred, the violence, and the un-truths, thereby implicitly encouraging more lies; when all of this has become the status quo, we as a country have two options: We can fear for our future, be angry, and develop a hatred for what is going on - a response that will most surely hasten our country’s turn to the dark side. OR, we can work to change the status quo, to restore hope, understanding, civility, and, God willing, love; leading our country to the light.

The prophets have taught us to be that light to the nations, so that our truth, our Torah, our teachings may permeate the world and begin to heal those fractures, shrinking those voids where evil has room to dwell.

The key to fulfilling this process of tikkun, of repairing our fractured world, goes back to the natural human tendency that we learned from Star Wars, that ultimately mis-direction, false promises, and outright lies are what tend to push us over the edge into darkness, causing us to create new fractures in the world. As such, our primary task in this season should be to work towards reducing or even eliminating this prominence of lying. Just getting back to basics, we need not look any further than the Ten Commandments to know this imperative: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

However, looking at just this commandment is not enough. There are two types of mitzvot, of commandments in our tradition, positive mitzvot and negative mitzvot: “the thou shalts" and “thou shalt nots.” In a national climate that is full of so much negativity, let us approach our holy work from the positive side of things. Instead of chastising people with “thou shalt not,” let’s encourage our fellow women and men with positivity.

We have 613 commandments to draw from and an entire corpus of scripture and teachings to guide us. In the Book of Exodus, only a few chapters after the Ten Commandments, we are taught: “Distance yourself from words of falsehood.” (Exodus 23:7) 

The Psalms also remind us of the benefit of honesty: “…God, who may walk in your sanctuary? Who shall dwell upon your holy mountain? One that walks upright, practices righteousness, and speaks truth in their heart…” (Psalm 15:1-2)

The rabbis of the talmud also pick up on this imperative of encouraging honesty. They have taught that “The seal of God is truth,” (Shabbat 55a, Sanhedrin 64a) and that speaking honestly is a spiritually favorable activity as it allows one to fully live the years that they have been allotted. (Sanhedrin 97a) Perhaps most importantly, the rabbis taught that we should avoid lying to children, thereby training them to be honest.” (Sukkah 46b)

We must do our best to train everyone to be honest and to seek out other honest people as friends, as colleagues, as confidants, as teachers, as mentors, and as leaders. By bringing more honesty into our world we will sustain the words of the Proverbs “A true tongue shall be established forever, but the lying tongue is only momentary,” (Proverb 12:19) which teaches us that honesty shall endure for eternity, but the credibility of a liar is fleeting. 

The Kabbalists that taught about the fracture of the world asserted that it is up to each member of the Jewish community to participate in this process of tikkun. They argued that everything can be restored to its place and that the fractures can be healed through a “secret magic” of our human acts. A powerful force, emanating from us.

We are at a pivotal moment in history, the history of our country and, indeed, the world. As individuals we will help choose which path our nation takes next. Will we succumb to the dark side of fear, hared, anger, and lies, or will we emerge into the light; promoting hope, friendship, understanding, generosity, and love. 

History has not always been kind to the Jewish people, but the Jewish community has always stood on the right side of history. When we face moments in our lives that force us to turn either to our yetzer ha-tov or our yetzer ha-ra let us be guided by our yetzer ha-tov, our inclination towards goodness. Let us choose to promote positivity and hope. Let us side with honesty over deceit. Let us be that light, that role model of truth and righteousness to the world. 

And…

May the force be with us.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Shof'tim: Leadership and Our Personal Judgement

This Shabat we read Parashat Shof’tim, from our Torah; a portion that reminds us of our religious obligation to pursue justice, fairness, and continuous study. Shof’tim also teaches us what to look for when we fulfill our civil obligation of selecting new leadership for our national and local communities. In particular, the portion teaches us:

Deuteronomy 16:18 You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the      settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. 19 You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. 20 Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you…

Deuteronomy 17:14 If, after you have entered the land that the Lord your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, "I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me," 15 you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman…18 When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. 19 Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. 20 Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.

As we move into our season of self-reflection, setting the course of our lives for the coming year we also, in turn, approach our country’s season of determining the course of our national life for the coming years. One characteristic of the Torah text that immediately stands out is that it only refers to leadership in male terms. Regardless of our political preferences, how wonderful it is that this year, especially, we get to teach the Torah something as history re-writes itself with a woman as the candidate for president of a major political party in the United States.

From the above text, we learn from our tradition that those we choose to lead should reflect the values and characteristics of pursuing justice, judging all with fairness and impartiality, always learning about the law and from past experiences, staying true to an ideologic course, and being similar in kind to ourselves. In the weeks ahead we will hear from the candidates for president, vice-president, and all other offices up for election. In this process we must determine for ourselves which ones most wholly embody those qualities that our Torah holds so dear.


Additionally, each of us are leaders of some sort, whether in our communities, at work, or at home. May we also learn from these teachings and incorporate these values and lessons into ur own lives; strengthening our personal abilities and hoping us to become the best versions of ourselves.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Eikev: Let Your Personal Experiences Guide You

Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag, an ancient rabbi from the Land of Israel, has one teaching in all of Jewish tradition attributed to him. He said of the Torah, “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it.” From this we learn that every time we read the Torah we come to it with new eyes, even those portions we have read and re-read over and over again. Each time we study Torah we will notice something new and learn something we had never thought about before. This happened to me this week when looking at our weekly portion. I noticed a verse that jumped out to me in a way that it never had before.

Parashat Eikev teaches us about the obligation that the Jewish people has to learn and to live by God’s teachings and the rewards that come with that. We are warned, yet again that failure to observe the commandments will result in punishments from God, while also being reminded that loving God and living by God’s guidelines will result in good fortune and security in the promised land, the land of Israel. Much of the wording and sentiments in the parasha are quite familiar and echo what we have been taught in other portions and what we know of Jewish tradition. Yet in the midst of the familiar, one injunction stands out as seemingly contrary to what we have come to expect. Moses tells the people:

“Take thought this day that it was not your children, who neither experienced nor witnessed the lesson of the Lord your God…but that it was you who saw with your own eyes all the marvelous deeds that the Lord performed.” (Deuteronomy 11: 2-7)

This focus on the current generation - that it was them who experienced God’s marvels and instruction, not their children - is surprising as we are generally accustomed to the idea that what happened to our ancestors in the desert happened to us all. At our Passover Seders we prompt ourselves “chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hoo yatza mi Mitzrayim,” that we are obligated to see ourselves as if we personally were freed from Egypt, and that we experienced Gods wonders. When we read about the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai we learn that the instruction was not given solely to those who were in attendance, but also to those who were not physically at Mt. Sinai, including future generations. This has led to the age old Jewish image that we were all present at Sinai.

Yet here, in Eikev, in Deuteronomy, Moses’ final sermons to the Israelite people, reviewing and repeating the rest of the Torah, here Moses stresses that he is not appealing to the people on the basis of another generation’s experience, but their own. Instead of asserting the importance of collective memory that is at the core of Jewish peoplehood, here it is one specific group, one generation that is tasked with remembering and understanding all that transpired and to use said experience as their impetus for adhering to God’s commandments and loving God. 

What, then, does this instruction mean for their children? What does it mean for future generations?

We learn in this instance that past lessons serve as motivation for our future actions. We learn that we can only act based on what we know, what we’ve learned and experienced in our lives. Yet we also learn that our experiences contribute to who we are and how we interact with  connect to the world around us. 

Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to utilize our own experience to deepen our love of God and our connection to Jewish tradition. It is incumbent upon us to apply our life experiences to our Jewish lives and to make our own contributions to tomorrow’s tradition and culture. And it is further incumbent upon us to pass on what we know to our children so that they may learn and experience the world in their own way, putting their own stamp on the future of our people.


This Shabbat may we be open to noticing, experiencing, and understanding all that life has to offer. May we see the world and all that is in it in a new way. And may we let our own experiences help us to deepen our connections to each other and to our shared tradition.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Light in the Darkness: June 26, 2015

In the midst of darkness
a light can still shine through.
A light unto the nations,
Though many have already found this light.
Today light beams forth from our nation.

We may not be the first
We pray we are not the last.

Out of weeks filled with injustice, intolerance, and ignorance
For a country in need of good news
Today light shines forth
America bathes in a rainbow of light.

Today Americans “become something
greater than once they were.”
Today “the highest ideals” ring true:
“love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”

Marriage is set free
“No union is more profound”

Fear loses
Hate takes a back seat
Irrational thought subsides
If only for a day

Today is bright
Today is right

Today truth triumphs
Today respect prevails
Equality carries the day
Today Love Wins


It is so ordered.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Because We Love Being Jewish

The past Saturday, January 31st, I had the privilege of attending and teaching at the annual URJ East District (New Jersey & Friends) Shabbaton. This day of prayer, study, and socializing is one that I look forward to every year since I moved to New Jersey. The atmosphere, the energy, the excitement, and the desire to learn at the Shabbaton is contagious and uplifting. 
This year, my now annual Talmud study session called “Those Crazy Rabbis” focused on a Talmudic discussion from Tractate Sota (pages 27b, 30b-31a) regarding Shirat HaYam, The Song of the Sea. The Song of the Sea, from Parashat Beshalach, the Torah portion from last week, is near and dear to me, not only for its importance in our history and our tradition, but also because it was the Torah portion I read at my Bar Mitzvah service.
While the “crazy” part of the discussion came in the Rabbis’ debate over how Shirat HaYam is to be recited (with even fetuses in the womb singing the song), the more enlightening discussion, and the one more relevant to us as liberal, autonomous Jews today, came immediately afterwards. In the Rabbis’ discussion of Job they attempt to answer the question of which is a better reason for serving God; out of love or out of fear. Before I comment on that question and the Rabbis’ discussion of it, we first need to understand why this discussion immediately follows one about The Song of the Sea. 
The Rabbinic teachings flow by association, as if they were an active conversation between two or more parties. For example, if I were to be talking to someone about Cracker Jack, that might (read: definitely would) remind me of baseball, and the next part of that conversation would be about baseball, even if it had nothing to do directly with Cracker Jack. In much the same way, since the Song of the Sea recounts the awesome powers of God that were on display at the parting of the Red Sea, the Rabbis thought about what the response to that power might be. On the one hand, our ancestors could have felt a obligation to serve God out of love for God for redeeming them from slavery with such mighty acts. On the other hand, perhaps our ancestors felt compelled to serve God out of fear of what God might do to them with such power.
This same question could be asked of this week’s portion, Yitro, as well. As the Israelites are encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses ascends the mountain amidst the thunder, lighting and clouds. God’s power is on display as God utters to us the laws we are to follow in God’s name; The Ten Commandments. Did our ancestors follow God’s laws in fear of the thunder, lightning and clouds? Were our ancestors afraid of God’s powers as described in the midrash where God held Mt. Sinai above the Israelites until they agreed to accept the Torah? Or, did our ancestors choose to accept the Torah and serve God out of a love of God and a love of being Jewish?
According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, both approaches, serving God out of fear and serving God out of love, are valid and righteous. Both are authentic and appropriate ways of living a Jewish life. However, Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar teaches us that serving God out of love is the greater of the two as the merit of this approach lasts for twice as long. Living a Jewish life out of a love of God and devotion to our tradition is twice as rewarding as living a Jewish life out of fear of punishment.
In our day we should not engage with Jewish life out of a fear of failing to live up to certain expectations. 

In our day we should not engage with Jewish life out of an obligation to merely fulfill a certain set of rules. 

In our day let us enjoy the freedom to celebrate and embrace our tradition because WE WANT TO, because WE ENJOY IT, because it has SPECIAL MEANING TO US, because it FEEDS OUR SOULS, and because WE LOVE BEING JEWISH.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Distinctly Jewish, From Ancient Egypt to Today

Throughout this week you may have seen on social media an article called “Hot pastrami and the decline of secular, Jewish-American identity: How deli stopped being an essential part of the Jewish-American story.” This opinion piece, written by Peter Beinart and published by Haaretz, expresses Beinart’s observation that the secular American Jewish identity is being diluted and fading away to the point where there soon may not be a singular, distinctive American-Jewish persona and culture recognizable by Jews and non-Jews alike. Even if we do not necessarily agree with his assessment of the situation, Beinart’s concern is certainly one that we must take seriously.

Maintaining a strong Jewish identity, one that is distinct from other cultures, one that stands out even in assimilated societies, and one that we are proud to exhibit has always been a hallmark of our people. Even in the darkest of times, when fear might have led to this identity being hidden in public, it continued to grow and flourish in private circles. For centuries, our religion has been maintained through study of Torah, and our peoplehood has been maintained by Jewish culture: our rituals, our holidays, our foods, our language, and all of our idiosyncrasies.

This has been true even from the earliest days of the Jewish people. As we read this week in Parashat Bo, and as we know from the story of Passover, on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, our ancestors were commanded to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. This smearing of blood was used to identify and distinguish Jewish homes from non-Jewish homes, protecting our ancestors from the final plague: the killing of the first-born.

Throughout the ages we have maintained our ancestors’ practice. By following the precedent in Egypt and observing the commandments in our Torah, we continue to mark our doorposts to this day with a mezuzah , clearly and proudly letting people know that our home is a Jewish home. And we have even gone further, wearing bracelets, rings, and necklaces featuring a Star of David, a “Chai” (Hebrew word for life), and even a smaller mezuzah. Many Jews also choose to wear their kippot (skullcaps, also known as yarmulkes) in public due to a feeling of religious obligation, a sense of pride and identity, or, many times, both. 

Over the past few months, and especially brought to a head over the past few weeks, we have come to clearly see that rampant Jewish hatred still exists in many parts of the civilized world. In these places, such as France, our fellow Jews have had to hide who they really are and temper their expressions of Jewish identity, fearing abuse, assault, or even the loss of their lives. They are no longer comfortable wearing their Jewish jewelry, kippot, or other outward signs of being Jewish. This fear has gotten to the point where an Israeli barber has created what is being called the “magic yarmulke;” a washable skullcap made out of hair. This new “fashion statement” blends easily with regular hair and allows one to fulfill the obligation of covering the head, while remaining inconspicuous (read, safe) in public. 

In ancient Egypt, when our people were persecuted and oppressed, their decision to actively and proudly display their identity is what saved their lives. In today’s Europe, when our people enjoy lives of freedom in the greater society, their decision to actively and proudly display their identity is what puts their safety at risk. I am, as we all should be, dumbfounded by this dichotomy.

Our hearts go out to Jews all over the world who live in fear, hesitant to announce that they are Jews. Our prayers go out to God that one day, very soon, the world will become enlightened. Our actions, therefore, must be put towards embracing OUR Jewish identities and proudly displaying them for all to see. If we can maintain a singular, unique, and distinctive identity as American Jews, we can give our brothers and sisters across the world hope that one day, they may be able to proudly show off their unique identities as well.

Let us put our Judaism on display. Let us embrace that which makes us unique in the world. And, this Shabbat, let’s have a bowl of matzo ball soup, corned beef (or pastrami) on rye, and a knish on the side, to remind us of who we are and where we come from.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Show Your Marvel

On Monday evening, the Ohio State Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoffs National Championship. As great as that game was, and as exciting of a victory as it is for Buckeye fans, such as my wife, the football game itself was only part of what drew people to watch ESPN. Many were drawn to their TV screens in order to watch the premiere of the trailer for Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the next big superhero blockbuster to hit the silver screen. 

With the recent successes of movies like Man of Steel, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America, and the success of TV shows like Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, and The Flash, we are, indeed, currently entrenched in the era of the superhero, comic book movie.  Marvel and DC Comics are both pursuing an aggressive slate of upcoming projects like Avengers, and next year’s Batman v Superman movie. 
Recently, Stephen McFeely, one of the writers of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, told The Hollywood Reporter that he often gets asked questions of why comic book movies are prevalent nowadays. His response to these questions is: 

"In some ways, we’ve become a genre that you can do well now given the world of computers and perhaps it’s also just a time in the sun. You went to the movies in the 50’s and 60’s you went to a western. So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie. It’s taking over that same black hat, white hat myth-making surface.”

While I would certainly agree with McFeely that todays visual effects have the power to bring the worlds of the comic heroes to life in ways that earlier generations could only dream about, I would have to say that modern technology is not the only reason people flock to comic book movies and shows. 
Day in and day out we see on the news and read online about horrific events taking place across the world and close to home. In this, the information age, we are more inundated than ever with knowledge of just how much evil exists in the world. Evils that we might choose to ignore at times, but evils nonetheless that do not go away just because we cannot handle them. 
The superhero genre gives us a temporary escape. We immerse ourselves in worlds that are also full of evil but, at the same time, feature heroes who keep that evil at bay, make the world safe, and foster the feelings of freedom and protection that all people dream about. DC and Marvel are producing movies and TV shows about extraordinary individuals who are saving the day from unspeakable evils because that is what we need right now. We need heroes, marvels to behold and to inspire us.
In their oppression in Egypt, our ancestors sought a similar hero to free them from their burdens. This week in our Torah, Moses emerges as that wonder. Finally agreeing to be God’s messenger, Moses, along with his brother Aaron, are instructed by God to proceed to Egypt, confront Pharaoh, and demand the freedom of the Hebrews. At the same time, God also knows that it will take more than a mere demand to convince Pharaoh. As such, God tells Moses and Aaron that Pharaoh will need convincing:

The Eternal One said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, ‘Show your marvel,’ you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.’ It shall turn into a serpent.
(Exodus 7:8-9)

Our heroes were issued the challenge, “תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת (t’nu lachem mofeit),” “show your marvel.” God knew, just as we do, that it takes a marvel, a wonderful or astonishing person or thing, to initiate true change in the face of oppression.

This weekend, our country devotes itself to honoring one such marvel of recent history, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was the epitome of a hero who stood up for what he believed in, inspired others to join his cause, and proved that equality was a goal for which many had strived. Dr. King’s work and his words still echo to this day as a call to action against many of the troubles our world faces today.

In the face of renewed feelings and tensions concerning racial inequality, we hear Dr. King say:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And in response to those who have acted violently in protest, we implore as Dr. King implored:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

In the face of renewed global terrorism we consider Dr. King’s words from a 1967 speech at Marietta College:

"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.”

And for each and every time we hear about a terrible tragedy, we seek comfort from Dr. King’s charge:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

In our broken and hurting world we maintain our hope for a brighter future, but hope, alone, is not enough. Rabbi Tarfon taught us:

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמוֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.
Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena—
 “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” 
(Pirkei Avot 2:16)

It is up to each of us to bring some hope back to the world, to be that light unto the nations that our prophets urge us to be. We all have the power to be everyday super heroes, to bring reality closer to the world of the comic books, to make our fantasy play out in reality. All we need is someone to inspire us. So now I challenge the world, our country, our community, and you:

“תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת” 
(t’nu lachem mofeit)

“Show Your Marvel!”