I received an email this afternoon, regarding my posting concerning same sex marriage.
“Why do you even waste time writing about this, you’re not Gay, this is a Gay issue. Seriously why do you care?”
It was from a reader I don’t know very well.
Following is my response. In short, I am compelled too take on this issue.
In the long answer:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught; “the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference.”
The older I get, the more I realize just how true this statement is.
A little background for my readers, in case you’re not familiar with the good Rabbi. He was probably the most influential Jewish theologian of the 20th century. Heschel was born in Poland in 1907, arrested by the Gestapo in Frankfurt in 1938 where he was teaching at a Jewish seminary. He was deported to Poland, he was evacuated to London 6 weeks before the German invasion of Poland in 1939 by Julian Morgenstern, president of the Hebrew Union College, the Reform Movements primary seminary. Morgenstern, who had enough vision to see what was coming in Europe, engaged in an effort to rescue as many prominent scholars from the Nazi’s as he could. From London Heschel eventually made his way to New York and finally to Cincinnati where began teaching at the Hebrew Union College, the main seminary of the Reform Movement in the United States.
He was lucky he was rescued. His mother and three sisters were murdered by the Nazi’s. During his life Heschel never returned to Germany, Poland or Austria. “If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.”
Despite these personal challenges, Heschel lived and taught the ideals of Tikkun Olam, the idea that since creation, the world has been broken, and it is the responsibility of every Jew to participate in it’s repair. Literal translation is Repairing the World. For Heschel this responsibility extended to the world at large, and was implemented through his active participation in social justice, in his case marching with Dr. King during the civil rights struggles and his opposition to the Viet Nam war. One of my favorite quotes from the Rabbi, “When I marched in Selma, my legs were praying.”
This link to social justice, according the Heschel’s work, goes to back to the commandment that we Jews are to remember when we were slaves in Egypt and we are to experience of the redemption from that condition, which is recalled not only at Passover, but ever day in the liturgy of daily prayers. This experience is supposed to remind us that we, all people, are harmed when anyone group or individual is harmed.
One of the more profound teachings for me, I quoted above, and I’ll repeat it, “the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference.” The atrocities of the Holocaust, and atrocities of every other mass murder or genocidal murderous rampage, I would argue has been enabled by indifference.
Rabbi Heschel taught that in our lives we would be presented with “sacred moments” and that the goal of education, spiritual living etc, is not simply to amass great knowledge and live some hollow life of piety, but with out practical application. It is the goal of education and spirituality to in fact, prepare us for these moments, and to help us to understand them so we do the right thing.
It seems in every generation we find ourselves facing these choices, choices to stand up, be heard and make a difference, to call out an injustice and to make our position known in the hopes that we might influence even one other person, and in doing so, in some small way, act to correct the injustice.
Rabbi Heschel said “all it takes is one person, and another, and another, and another to start a movement.” I believe that when we take on the cause of the weakest among us and embrace them and lend them our own strength, we are in fact, participating in the divine plan of Tikkun Olam, the repair of a world that is broken. To ignore, to come up with excuses; not my people, not my problem, is to participate that which is opposite of good and contrary to what is right.
In my life I’ve had opportunities to embrace causes, some I’ve acted right, some I’ve let my indifference rule the day. In this case, I believe the civil right of GLBT people are being attacked in what is the civil rights issue of this time. The legislators and homophobic defense of marriage crowd who are attempting to put a stop to what they don’t like will be on the wrong side of history, even if they win this battle. The youth, and I mean 30 somthings, in poll after poll don’t see same sex marriage as much of an issue. It’s the 50 and older crowd who are most against it.
These legislators, I know, will wind up much like the legislators in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi who, in the period after the Civil War and up until the Supreme Court action of 1960’s made inter-racial marriage a crime, in Florida a felony, with prison terms. The reasons were the same as those being put forward for same sex marriage, G-d’s law.
Do you really think that if the Supreme Court had not stepped in 1968 and overturned these laws, along with imposing de-segregation, and striking down Jim Crow laws that white Southerners would have come to there senses and “given” African-American’s rights? I don’t.
This is a time and place where I want to be on the right side, the side of defending those whose rights are in jeopardy. G-d forbid that my kids would remember me as a homophobe, in the way I remember my father and my grandmothers as racists. And even worse, what if one of my children or grandchildren are Gay? Why wouldn’t I want them to feel loved and accepted in their own family. How would I face them if I were to tell them I don’t think their relationship is beneficial to society?
Since I’m quoting Rabbis, I’m closing with a quote from Rabbi Tarfon who lived and taught in Israel in the period immediately after the destruction of the second Temple, he had the following teaching regarding this noble work of Tikkun OIam:
“You are not obliged to finish this work, but neither are you free to avoid it.”