Interfaith Prayer Vigil
In support of Asylum Seekers held at Sea Tac
June 18, 2018
As some of you know, during the period of the year known as the High Holy Days, Jews engage in a process of deep and honest reflection, taking a painstaking account of our actions over the previous year. We engage in a fearless moral accounting, examining if our actions in the world have been consistent with the high ethical standards that Jewish Tradition sets for us.
Within Jewish Tradition, a narrow and strict interpretation of humans’ acceptable behavior or action is called Din. Din is sometimes translated as judgment. From the perspective of Din, when someone breaks a law, that person deserve to be punished. Simple, with no room for interpretation. The law is clear.
Jewish Tradition also teaches, however, that there is something called Rachamim—it means mercy, or compassion. It recognizes that because the world is filled with real human beings, with needs and longings, vulnerabilities and extenuating circumstances, Din must be balanced with Rachamim. Judgment must be balanced with compassion.
There is a story from Jewish Tradition that I love. It says that during the time that human beings are doing the hard work of intense introspection, examining their actions, God gets up from the Throne of Judgment, and moves over to the Throne of Mercy, where God is filled with compassion for God’s people, in the fullness of their humanity. . . (Leviticus Rabbah Emor 29:3)
If God can be compassionate toward humans, who are driven to do things out of desperation, out of a longing for a life of freedom that any one of us would want as well, if God can be compassionate toward them, then why can’t we? Or more accurately, why can’t those who are in position of power, who today live lives of privilege and prosperity, whose ancestors too once came to this country longing for the same freedom, why can’t they be compassionate as well?
To say “It is very biblical to enforce the law” ignores thousands of years of history in which legal experts worked hard to interpret and apply the law in real and difficult situations. It ignores the process of legal interpretation that has existed in this country since its founding that recognizes that the law must be understood in the context of real people’s lives and circumstances.
Though I draw on Jewish Tradition to guide me in my actions in this world, just as many of you, I know, draw upon your own faith or ethical traditions to guide you as well, none of our religious traditions should be enshrined in our laws. The First Amendment clearly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither my Bible, nor Jeff Sessions’ Bible, should be allowed to rule the land.
Friends, there is one more thing that I would like to share from Jewish tradition that I hope might help guide us as we seek to respond to these most recent morally unconscionable actions of this country’s Administration. It is a teaching that comes from the Bible, from the Book of Leviticus:
לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃
You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Rebuke your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him.
–Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:17
Hocheach Tochiach. The doubling of the Hebrew verb indicates emphasis. You shall surely rebuke. Judaism teaches that it our obligation to be critical when we see that society or individuals are making terrible mistakes. Criticism is an expression of our care for others. It is our sacred obligation.
Therefore, because we care about the United States of America, because we care even more deeply about the innocent children who have been separated from their families by this Administration’s strict interpretation of the law, and because we care about the families from whom they have been separated, let us raise our voices in a loud and clear rebuke to those who have enacted these latest policies. Let us demand of them: Enact policies and practices that ensure that this country is a reflection of the best that we as Americans, we as humans, can possibly be. We will accept nothing less.
Ken Y’hi Ratzon. May it be so.