January 2016 News Letter Afflicted and Uncomfortable

January 2016

AFFLICTED AND UNCOMFORTABLE

 

 When I was in rabbinical school I learned that the role of the rabbi was both to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We live in a time of great fear. Our 24-hour news cycle beams images of terrifying attacks right into our living rooms. If we have our phone in our hands, in an instant we can be watching a violent video that causes us to shake in our shoes. We want only to have peace and quiet, to be safe, to be comfortable. And yet, though our tradition champions peace and finding rest on Shab-bat, we are not supposed to sit idle. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, writes a wonderful blog that he calls Martini Judaism. With that title he teaches that we are a people who should be both shaken and stirred.  Abraham, Rab-bi Salkin teaches was the first on the path not only to monotheism, but also in his will-ingness to challenge the status quo. Abraham was a breaker of idols and we too, are called upon not to become complacent. Eli Weisel gave an eloquent speech at the White House in 1999, entitled “The Perils of Indifference.”  Drawing on his youth in Nazi German, Weisel is our Jewish conscience. His observation in 1999 was that we were living in a time full of violence. This is even more true in 2016. But though there is violence in the world, instead of searching for a way to combat it, we search instead for a safe place to hide out. Our normal default is indifference.  Wiesel teaches that the etymological root of indifference is ‘no difference.’ Which he observes as a strange liminal state where there is no light, and yet no darkness, where there is no clear good and no clear evil. He reminds us that the most tragic prisoners of Auschwitz were called the Muselmanner.” These were the people who spent their time on the ground, reclin-ing or siting. Their stare was vacant. They did not seem to be experiencing distress; they were neither hungry or  thirsty. They were just at rest, they were numb. Their death had come and they were yet una-ware. Indifference is not a safe place to hide out in a time of conflict. Instead, Weisel teaches, it is an end. It does not benefit the individual, but rather benefits the one who is inflicting terror and causing us to freeze in our place. We have learned too much in our history to allow ourselves to be by-standers.Instead, we Jews allow ourselves to be af-flicted, and do not settle for comfort. We ask to be shaken, and of course to be stirred. Like Tevye, we might ask if God could choose someone else for a change. But perhaps challenging racism, decrying terror, and championing justice is the work for which we have been chosen.