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Lech L’cha: Go and Vote

Rabbi Allison Berry

Lech L’cha1- God said to Abram in this week’s Torah portion - Go out, go forth. And Abram listens. He leaves everything he has ever known behind and does as God commands. This is the beginning of our people’s journey.

And in every subsequent generation, our people have taught their children that God’s call to Abram - was a call to all of us. A call for us to live as befits our names, to do what is right and just, to care for one another, and to make the world better.

And yet in the here and now, the sound of God’s voice can be hard to hear. These days, so many of us are afraid, I am afraid. There is so much hate, and division and moral failure. It feels as if our country is falling apart. We are headed in the wrong direction - moving further and further away from God’s call - the Lech L’cha of our text.

And yet, our tradition teaches, when times are at their most dark - we must still cultivate hope. And so tonight, I ask you to hope with me. To dream with me for just a moment as I share with you the call, the Lech L’cha of a very brave woman. MK Tehila Friedman, in her maiden Knesset speech2, delivered this past August, offers up a vision, a dream grounded in Jewish values, of what our world could look like, not on Tuesday, but rather on Wednesday morning. Her words are what I held in my heart when I filled out my absentee ballot a few weeks ago. And I hope you will hold on to them as well in the weeks ahead.

“[Lately],” Friedman shares, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai…[This was] the man who at the last possible moment was able to save the Jewish people: from Jerusalem of the Temple that burns, to Yavne of the House of Study that unites, and was thus able to reinvent the Jewish people anew.

[Here was] this the middle of a civil war, while outside the city walls [of Jerusalem] the Romans were waiting for the moment to enter and destroy everything.

[This was a] civil war that started as a disagreement about how to deal with the Romans, but turned very quickly into an identity war...Whatever you thought about the Romans, that became what you are, whatever you thought about what to do in the situation – that became who you are. If I don’t agree with you, I’m against you. Absolutely. Until the blood starts running.

[There was] Hatred that inundated everything. In the name of hatred, knives were sharpened in the temple. In the name of hatred, the cellars that held the food that could help a city under siege were burned. In the name of hatred, famine spread, and with famine came despair.

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai wasn’t from the UN. He and his students were part of the conflict. They fought against the Zealots, but at some point he chose a different path...He...addressed his bitter enemy, the one who he believed was responsible for the upcoming destruction. Abba Sikra was his name, the leader of the Zealots in Jerusalem.

Abba Sikra also knew that a civil war is more dangerous than a foreign enemy, but this man who ignited the rebellion discovered he could no longer control it...The hatred he spread became stronger than him. Together the leader of the Zealots and the leader of the moderates managed to help Rabbi ben Zakkai escape create something new, [to] establish the conditions for the day after.

Two thousand years have passed since Rabbi Yohanan...[And] right now, in the middle of a massive political crisis...a terrible plague spreads wildly outside, and inside the same destructive desire to defeat each other, the same blindness, the same hatred that causes us to spend most of our energy in internal conflict...

I’m Jewish...a Religious Zionist, a nationalist, a feminist, a Jerusalemite...I grew up in and tradition that shaped who I am. There’s a lot of truth, and good and beauty in my world, but not all the truth, not all the beauty, not all the good...I don’t want everyone to believe in the same things as I do, because I know that in other communities and worlds there’s truth and beauty and good, and that I have a lot of things to learn from them.

It’s [also] true that part of these communities hold beliefs and values and actions that I oppose. Part of those are threatening to me, as a woman, as a Jew, as a Zionist, as a religious person.

But I know that in each of these communities, that although there are those who believe in their righteousness...and who plan to rule and control. There are also those who understand that the differences between us aren’t going to go away, that we [are] destined to live together, and that is the challenge of our lives.

Along with them, I am suggesting...[that we] bring back the forces from the extremes that ruin everybody’s lives a shared center.

I speak in a gentle voice, I know, and you can be misled to think that my message is also calling to form a gentle and compromising center.

But it’s the exact opposite. The center I’m talking about is a principled center...that’s not willing to comprise about its “centeredness.”...It puts a limit on self-righteousness, a limit on selfishness. A center that is willing to sacrifice in the name of moderation and democracy, of a Judaism that makes a place for others...that with its very being protects the rules that allow us to manage our differences without breaking us into pieces.

I came here to be part of a leadership...that doesn’t want to avenge past wrongs...or to be always in the right; but rather a leadership that wants to repair and to rebuild...a leadership that doesn’t want to erase anybody.

[As one of these leaders]...[Like Yochanan ben Zakkai], I believe that the only way to establish the foundations for the next stage in this country’s life, to save us from destruction, [is] to reinvent ourselves anew…

These are the days of the Third Temple. And exactly like the two that preceded it, it’s fragile. It’s flammable. It cannot be taken for granted. Its stability is our responsibility. Its existence depends on us.”

Friends, if you haven’t done so already, here is tonight’s call - Lech L’cha - go and vote. And then after you vote, remember, no matter the outcome - you are not one voice, alone. As I look to the future, I can see one voice become two, two become three, and three become all of us.

In the days ahead, we will need to practice patience as the votes are counted, but I believe in my heart and soul, that no matter what happens on Tuesday, we will find our way back to that principled center. We will work together to heal ourselves and our country. We will hear God’s call and like past generations live out our Jewish values to respect and care for one another forever striving for tikkun olam - repair of the world.

Let’s not give up hope. We can build this vision of America together.

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Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784