A few nights ago my wife and I were privileged to attend a performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The book, published in 1960, has become a classic, as has the play and film version. As the play unfolded, you could not help but consider the fact that the play could have been written today. In no uncertain terms, it spoke to the concept of what it was like to be the “other”. Several times during the production a line of dialogue or a character’s speech would illicit a gasp or groan from the audience. This hit home on so many levels. This idea of singling out people who are deemed to be different is as old as civilization. It always ends badly. It is a reality that must be guarded against, especially if you are among a group that is seen to be vulnerable.
This reality is also the subject of a new novel. In “The Measure” (Nikki Erlick.) we are presented with a scenario of strings. I do not wish to give away the plot, but, a message in the book is how a group that is seen to be blessed treats those that gave not been favored. Do they embrace kindness, or do they opt for exclusion and prejudice? The randomness of the initial acts allows for brokenness. As one character says: “We segment ourselves based on race or class or religion or whatever…distinctions we decide to make up, and then we insist on treating each other differently…Once people start believing that a certain group is out to get them—that immigrants are stealing their jobs, and gay couples are undermining marriage, and feminists are falsely accusing them of rape—it doesn’t take much to get us to turn on each other”.
We do live in a most unusual moment in history. It is frightening that so few people study history, understand it and appreciate it. That old saying that people who do not study history are doomed to repeat it has been and continues to be true. Are we so different, have we really progressed that much since Torah was written? Yet, we still have choices. Our tradition’s moral thrust continues to focus on justice, kindness and the need to embrace each person on their own terms. Our ethics echo Atticus’s speech when he cautions his children not to make a judgement about someone else until “you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.
The world presents us with amazingly powerful choices. As we amble through the summer and move slowly to the High Holidays (Sept. 25), let us take some time to consider how we, each of us in our own way, can dedicate our life to shalom (peace), chesed (kindness) and tzedek (justice) this coming year. As Pirke Avot reminds us, we cannot save the entire world, but we can impact our little space in it. So may it be.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.