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Tikvah Shabbat Drash

04/29/2022 02:03:59 PM


Rabbinic Intern Greg Marcus

Today on our Tikva Shabbat, we have gotten a small glimpse of what our tradition has to say about conflict resolution, respectful dialogue, and tolerance for multiple viewpoints.

The 30-million-shekel question is, how do we make it happen?

Is it easy in here to say, “We should listen with curiosity, or accept multiple points of view.” But what happens in the real world, when we are sitting across from someone who believes things that fundamentally go against our values?

The only way that we can change our culture, is for us to change our behavior. And the secret to make it happen is right here.

I am holding up a small stone. It is about the size of my thumb. But they are totally different; the stone is hard and unmoving. The thumb is alive and warm, pliable, and able to heal.

We’ll come back to the stone in a few minutes. First, I will share with you why I am drawn to this work of bringing people together. I feel passionately that we must stay in relationship with people we disagree with because the alternative is far worse.

Around 2014, I came across a quote in the Talmud that forever changed me. It teaches that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students who all died within a very short period because they did not respect one another. When I looked at the trend of increasing vitriol and division in our country, I grew afraid that we might meet the same fate. Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse since then.

It was apparent to me that our country was and is suffering from a spiritual sickness, in which we are fundamentally losing the ability to connect with one another. We become so sensitized to the slights and hurts, that any move by “the other side” is viewed with suspicion at best, and contempt at worst. For some, it has become fashionable to hang around with people we agree with and bash the other side.

We are not immune here at CBJ from these trends. We don’t all agree about any number of social imperatives. The voices of division are too loud in our society to pretend that they don’t impact the people in our community.

And while we can’t make those voices go away, we can choose to do better.

It turns out that Judaism has a name for this spiritual sickness; it is called timtum halev, a stopped-up heart. As an aside, timtum halev has its origins in today’s parsha. Ask me later if you want to know.

When we suffer from timtum halev, our focus turns inward. We become preoccupied with our own wealth, needs, and pain. We become stingy, and do not give of ourselves.

Think about the Passover story, Pharaoh hardened his heart, and as a result did terrible things.

Perhaps the only thing worse than having a stopped-up heart is a heart of stone.

Did you notice the reference to a heart of stone in today’s Haftarah?

“And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh” Ezekiel 36:26

Context: a people who have lost their way, and the land was destroyed because of their wrongdoing.

And after this change, from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, everything is great; land, health, thriving.

Ezekiel is giving us a metaphor. God is not literally doing a magic trick. We are being given a message of hope; eventually we will grow as a people. And the only way we can do it is together.

I’ll be honest, sometimes my heart looks more like a stone than flesh. But it is really exhausting to be angry or fearful or judgmental all the time.

We do have the capacity to change. It is not easy.

This change can’t happen from the couch. There is no way to donate money and make this go away. It only happens if each and every one of us are willing to take a tiny step. Those first steps are hard but let me tell you a secret.

Taking that first step is the whole game. Because one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. When we start moving in the right direction, that second step becomes just a bit easier. And if each of us moves an inch, together we’ve moved a block.

At CBJ we are ahead of the game. The 2019 Respectful Dialogue team got us off to a good start, and as a culture we are very good at tolerating many different Jewish practices. We have a real opportunity to grow our culture over the next few years to become more resilient to conflict, and to see this panoply of viewpoints as a strength.

I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to intern at a place where people said yes to making change. When Rabbi Ezray approached Sheila Zelinger and George Dale to be part of this, they said yes. And when we opened things up for people to join the Tikva team, more people said yes. And we invite you to say yes as well.

Today at the kiddush lunch, we’ll have an opportunity to get to know each other, to share stories and listen. Don’t worry, we won’t be addressing any of the tough issues today.

And men shall say, “That land, once desolate, has become like the garden of Eden; and the cities, once ruined, desolate, and ravaged, are now populated and fortified.” Ezekiel 36:35

May it be so in our time.

Mon, August 15 2022 18 Av 5782