Time is not a line.
How we conceive of our movement through time is a central theme in how we frame our own meaning and existence. We might think that we move from to 5779 to 5780 as if plowing ever forward like a bulldozer clearing trees or like a car driving down a neverending road. That the past is eternally behind us in the rear view mirror and the future is unknown. This is not true.
Time is a circle. We are constantly leaving home and returning to it; experiencing sublime moments and then revisiting those moments as memories or deja vu, or even as the connective tissue between an old peak experience and the current one. Trama, too, is a circle. We revisit old injury and reopen them. We heal, we are wounded, we heal, we are wounded. And sins and mistakes too. Our latest apology is given knowing that we will try our darned-est, but will like fail again.
One of history's most exceptional rabbi, Rabbi Alan Lew (z"l), wrote "If you are moving along the circumference of a circle, it might seem at first as if the starting point is moving farther and farther away, but actually it is getting closer and closer. That is the Jewish calendar."
Tishrei - the penitential season that includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the pilgramidge holiday of Sukkot, has come around again. We are returning home. We are departing. We are returning home. We maintain our essential nature of who we are. We grow and change.
Shanah Tovah u'Metukah.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
I write this amidst another tumultuous week in what has been a tumultuous year for the American Jewish community. As I write, the President has questioned the loyalty of Jews who choose not to vote for him; two Congresswomen with a reputation for criticizing Israel have been denied permission to travel there; and the American Jewish community has been in response/crisis/media mode, with the heads of the ADL, Reform and Conservative movements, and other leading institutions showing up in newspapers and on CNN. In conversations and online, there has been much fighting; amongst voices inside the Jewish community as well as against non-Jews who claim to know what's 'best for the Jews.' Much of the rhetoric has been bitter, and charged. The word 'antisemitic' is popping up everywhere.
It has been an exhausting week. It is only Wednesday.
And I imagine, even though it will be another week and a half until you read this, that there will be another controversy or political battle about Jews in America between now and then. Or two. Or three. Such has been the nature of 2019. It makes me want to curl up under the covers and hide.
It becomes even more complicated when I think about what, as a rabbi, I am supposed to do. Should the synagogue be the main point of address for these nasty fights and angry battles? Am I not duty-bound to help us, as a people, contextualize and frame the debates that are raging? Is this battle over antisemitism occurring at the highest levels of our nation a pressing crisis that we must contend with as a community? Or, to paraphrase the Jewish Forward's Opinion Editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon, are the Jews tired?
Tired of being political pawns.
Tired of hearing angry divisive political rhetoric from Jerusalem and Washington DC.
Tired of listening to another sermon about another topic that just boils the blood or depresses the soul.
A synagogue must serve both as a place of outrage and refuge. We must discuss the topic of the day but also be a place to seek solace from the wars that are raging. I do my best to help facilitate both - to make Brith Shalom a comfortable place for spiritual recharge, but also to make it be a beacon of ethical right and a place to clarify the moral teachings of our tradition, even when that takes a political tinge. Finding that balance is just trickier now than it has ever been before.
The Jews are tired. But we can neither be too tired to fight, nor must we battle on wearily without stopping to refresh and reboot ourselves spiritually on occasion. The Jews are tired. Together, we must make our shul be an oasis of peace and contemplation.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
As the Women's World Cup is broadcast around the world to massive audiences; as the 2020 Presidential election begins to elevate the voices of no fewer than six female candidates; and as the #MeToo movement continues reshape the nature of America's relationship between the two sexes, the Torah also, ever-so-briefly, reflects on women as well. The midsummer parsha of Pinchas will falls this year in late July, containing within in the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. As you likely know, Zelophehad dies without sons, and so his brothers are designated by the Torah to be the heirs. His daughters are to get nothing.
It is an injustice towards women, and not the only one we see in Torah. Biblical society 3,000 years ago was was patriarchal and patronizing. Women were a lower category of citizen, with fewer rights and protections. With a few notable exceptions, women did not serve as familial decision makers, and women were not in roles of leadership.
The daughters of Zelophehad appeal to Moses regarding their plight. When they point out that the situation is unjust, Moses agrees. The law is changed.
And so law and society would continue to change for women, with glacial slowness, for the next 3,000 years. Women today have jobs; women can vote; women are equal to men before the law. In Judaism, women can read from the Torah and put on tefillin and become rabbis.
But women are still not equal to men, and our society still has a long way to go to get there. The US Women's National team is suing US Soccer to be paid equal to the men. Fully 242 years into America's history and we still have never had a woman president. And it took decades of crass jokes about 'casting couches' and 'old boys clubs' and 'locker room talk' before our nation finally woke up to the truth - that lewd talk and sexual assault in the workplace were commonplace, and disgusting, and that it was long past time for such garbage behavior should have ended.
Many workplaces and professions are still unequal and uncomfortable for women. Men still dominate the leadership of corporate America and academia and the rabbinate. In 2019, a women still only earns $0.79 to every dollar that a man earns.
We have a long way to go. The fight is not over. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is to be read, then, each and every year, as a call to action to change the things that must be fixed. Someday it will be a quaint story of olden days when things were unequal. Until that day, though, we must always be vigilant and willing to fix the broken systems or inequity, as Moses would have wanted us to.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.