Friday, December 12, 2014

She is more right(eous) than I!

One of my favorite Chasidic stories is about the Kotzker Rebbe, one of my Jewish heroes. He asked his students where is God? They looked at him baffled. Surely God is everywhere? The Kotzker Rebbe replied with a smile, God is only where you let God in.

It is a lovely story, and you’ve heard me tell it before, but what does it mean to let God in? Is it a profession of faith? Okay, well, what is a profession of faith? We usually understand it to mean a deep believe in a particular way, to to the exclusion of others. Perhaps even exclusion of other ways to a fault. Our truth is the real truth, the only truth, the only way.  Letting God In, under that rubric, might then be understood as a kind of a/b question: yes or no, right or wrong. Or as Heidi Klum puts it on Project Runway: either you're in or you're out.

That may be how we tend to understand faith and belief, but I don't know that's defensible in Judaism. Time and again we see God upholding not the one who is in but the one who is just.

Case in point: Tamar, from this week’s Torah portion. Cast aside as damaged goods by Judah, her father-in-law, because each son who married her in succession died, he never stops to think that he may be the one in the wrong. Instead, the brother who sold Joseph into slavery and left his father assumes he is right. It takes Tamar sleeping with him in the guise of a sacred prostitute and revealing his identity as the father of her children to proclaim that she is more tzedek than he. More right, but also more just.

We are increasingly like our namesake Judah. He couldn't conceive of s world where Tamar's needs were of equal values and his sons may be wicked. Likewise, we are uninterested in hearing other narratives that run counter to our own. We continue to assume the world is a/b: either you're right or you're wrong. Call it polarized, or chauvinistic, or what have you, the scenario is the same. And I repeats in the situation at UVA, in Ferguson and System Island, between Jews and Palestinians, between Jews and Jews, and here in Wilmington. But it is possible to hold more than one narrative as true. It can be true that the police mostly serve honorably and that there is a problem with race and class in this country. It is possible that Rolling Stone blew it on a journalistic integrity AND there is a problem of sexual assault on college campuses. It is possible that Wilmington has terrible problems, and is a wonderful community. And I can go on and on, not just on big social issues, but our personal relationships as well. How often do we feel we aren't listened to by the people in our circle? But we need to see the other side, EVEN AND ESPECIALLY when we disagree. Even if the other side isn't trying too hard to hear our side. Even when we know we're right.

The great theologian Krister Stendahl said, "We should learn to live in Holy Envy" - Rabbi Gary Bretton Grenatoor  understood that to mean: that truth can come from any source and to be respectful, and even open to truths that come from outside our own tradition.  Teach us, O God, to be able to say, even and especially when it’s hard, even at great cost to ourselves that he, that she, is more right than I. Teach us to put ego aside and focus on learning rather than winning. Then, may it be said they that we let God in. Amen.

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