These days I wonder if Donald Trump wrestles with his demons when he chooses wounding and hurtful words. In the Jewish tradition, when we wake up in the morning we say: “Let me be swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of the Holy One.” We realize that every day is a struggle between our good and bad impulses and although many things are predestined we have the innate power and freedom to make moral choices and follow the path of goodness.
What is expected of us, according to the Hebrew prophet, is to “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Holy One.” When the Sages tried to distill the essence of sacred teaching they quoted this along with: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I believe that you may not call yourself religious or pious or faithful members of any denomination if you hurt others, because as it is said: “God wants heart.”
Often my congregants would approach me apologetically and say: “Rabbi, I’m not religious.” My response was to ask; do you care about others and are you troubled by the pain in our world? Because if you are then you may be very religious even if you don’t belong to a house of worship and despite your lack of ritual observance…or for that matter, even if you have your doubts about God.
And although I am a rabbi and proud of my Jewish heritage, I have evolved spiritually to believe that we are all children of the Eternal, no matter what religion or belief system, because the true heart of “religion” is human goodness and decency.
When the groom breaks a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony I say this signifies that our broken world is not yet at peace and still needs healing. In the Jewish mind a central belief is “Tikun Olam” …Repairing a troubled word…through our deeds of justice and compassion and loving- kindness.
There is a tale about a venerable rabbi who lived in a poor Jewish settlement in Eastern Europe during the harsh pogroms carried out against the Jewish people.The time is just before the High Holy Days. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door, and a poor disciple enters looking very downcast. “Rabbi”, he confesses, “I cannot direct my prayers to heaven on these Days of Awe in the face of all the suffering in the world and the cruel opression of our people.”
It is getting cold in the hut as the fire dies down and the rabbi gestures and gives an answer without words. He takes the poker by the fireplace and stirs the scattered embers. They burst into flame again and there is warmth and light where the rabbi sits with his student who laments the state of his world and cannot bring himself to direct his prayers to the Holy One.
And the disciple, watching this, realizes the rabbi is giving an answer to his pessimism and he declares: “Oh, now I see Rabbi.”
What does the disconsolate student see? What do we see? We are like the flickering embers when we despair because of all the coldness and indifference and cruelty in our world. But just as the embers bring renewed warmth and light when they are moved closer to each other so do we human beings when we encourage one another with acts of kindness.
“Don’t settle for a spark…. light a fire instead!”