June 5, 2020 – Beha’alotech

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Rosenberg

Admittedly, I have been at a loss for words this week, and instead of rushing to speak, I have felt the need to listen and to process these last two weeks in our country.  From the treatment of Christian Cooper who was simply asking a woman to leash her dog, to the murder of George Floyd. Two black men, who were treated not as human beings.  In each instance, their humanity was overlooked, perhaps not even considered, because of the color of their skin, and it is abundantly clear that racism, systemic racism, reigns in our country.  

It is so hard to write those words, as I know that many of you, like me, want to say, “what are you talking about? I am not racist.  I didn’t do those things, that was someone else.”  Know that I am not calling you out, but calling all of us, human beings out, as these two incidents, along with so many others, have happened because collectively we have continued to allow them to happen.  Perhaps because we have not fully understood our white privilege.  Too often, we have been silent, not truly understanding the societal realities facing people of color, justifying our silence by saying, “I’m not the cause, I’m not racist.”  And, yet, what I am realizing this week, is that it is our silence that is the problem, as our silence can be taken for indifference.  And we know this, as a Jewish community, because we’ve felt the silence of others, and too often have realized that when we leave the “fight” to someone else, change will never happen.  How often do we wish that someone would speak up for us? That someone else would say, “Hey, that’s antisemitic, you can’t say that?”  It is now our turn to start speaking up, to start doing the same for our brothers and sisters of color. 

For the past 10 days, I have had numerous conversations with my kids about racism and the world around us.  I have engaged with members of our staff and with so many of you.  And, a true moment of blessing this week, was our women’s studies group.  We set aside the book of the Bible we are studying, we took a deep breath, and we talked.  We talked about racism, we shared poignant and painful stories of recognition of our own biases, and we talked about the guilt and pain that comes from realizing that sometimes we were part of the problem.  And yet, there was hope, hope for a better world, and the recognition that each of us has the power to do something, to say something, to help create the change that is desperately needed in our country and our world.  I think what we all realized in that moment is that change begins with each of us, when we, as individuals and hopefully as a collective, see in every human being, regardless of size, shape, religion, skin color – that we are all b’tzelem Elohim – created in the image of God.  

Toward the end of this week’s parashah Beha’alotecha, Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses.  It isn’t clear what the issue is and why they are speaking against him, but the text says, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!”  (Numbers 12)    What is a Cushite woman?  In Biblical terms, a Cushite is “dark-skinned” or could be from Cush – Ethiopia.  Why is there now a problem with Tzippora, Moses’ wife?  Is the issue her skin color? Where she’s from?  Why now?  The text doesn’t tell us anything else, we are just left wondering why these siblings are arguing and what if anything it has to do with being Cushite?  What does Moses do?  Moses just shrugs it off.  He lets the “ugly” words of his siblings wash over him and he moves on.   It is God, who doesn’t allow the moment to pass.  Instead, God calls out their behavior and punishes Miriam with leprosy.   

How poignant is this parashah for the moment we are in.  A true recognition that words hurt and that even those we hold up as great leaders and teachers, such as Miriam and Aaron, sometimes, sometimes even their own internal biases get the best of them.  And too often, like Moses, those who are hurt just turn away, letting the hurt and pain seemingly wash over them because it is expected, and the cycle continues.  In this moment, it is as if God is saying, “Enough, it’s time for you to be aware of the hurt and the pain.” And so, God afflicts Miriam.  

Our country is in pain!  This isn’t a new pain, we’ve seen it and felt it before, but this time, instead of just dealing with it, of letting it pass,  it is time for us, to be like God and say, “enough is enough!”  It is time for us to move the needle in this ongoing process of dismantling systemic racism.  It is time for us to recognize that change begins by looking in the mirror, by changing our own behaviors, and by no longer staying silent.  

So, what can we do?  What can you and I do to become or continue being allies to help dismantle the hate and the racism that exists in our country and our world??   I am sharing what I learned from Danielle Coke, a young black woman, whose art I came across on Instagram.  One piece is called, Anatomy of an Ally.

         Use your mouth to speak out against injustice.

         Use your nose to sniff out implicit bias.

         Use your eyes to identify privilege. 

         Use your ears to listen to the POC experience.

         Use your heart to cultivate empathy. 

         Use your hands to take action and make change!

Our tradition teaches, “the day is short, and the task is tremendous. . . we may not be able to complete the task, but we are not allowed to neglect it.”  We know the power of hate.  We know the power of silence.  We also know the power and blessing of allies, true allies, those who are willing to speak up and even take risks for the sake of another human being simply because they are human and created b’tzelem Elohim.  

This Shabbat, we pause and take a deep breath.  We listen, we reflect, and we look to Moses for guidance and strength.  When Miriam was punished with leprosy, regardless of his feelings toward her and her previous actions and words, Moses asked God, “El Na Refa Na La – Please heal her.”   In this moment, even as we ask God to heal our world and bring peace, we must find the inner strength to not just pray for peace and healing, but to do, to act, to be God’s partners, to be allies and stand up for those who need our voices!  

Shabbat Shalom

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