William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Insist on the good, Reclaim the sacred

“In an age when religious closed-mindedness and coercion are among the most dangerous threats we face” Rabbi David Wolpe wrote this week “promoting religious openness is a sacred task.”   The deep wisdom imbedded in this challenge – which urges us to insist as a means to resist – resonates powerfully for me since my recent return from a wonderful visit to Israel.

Reactions to Israeli leadership’s failure to keep faith with its commitments to our commitments have ranged from retaliation to resignation.  Financial retaliation may be impactful but it makes a dysfunctional relationship much more transactional (what it should not be) and less covenantal (what it should be).  So too, turning our backs on those who broke faith with us awards them a dominion they have done little to deserve.

A different flavor of despair surfaced through many conversations from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. “What can we do? The high birthrate and expanding power of those with coercive designs is worrisome.  This will only get harder.”  True.  Yet, the values espoused by God’s Torah are not inert.  They cannot be suppressed or disfigured for long.  Religious malpractice will not get the last word. 

Significantly, many Orthodox leaders and practitioners oppose the bullying of the House of Israel.   Rabbi Benny Lau was in good company last Shabbat among respected Israeli religious leaders in mobilizing his community to re-earn faith and integrity among the People of Israel.  And while some look at the growing numbers of ultra-Orthodox now serving in the IDF as a troubling trend, I believe it will make the Haredi more Israeli than it will have the inverse effect. 

A commitment to goodness abides in this week’s portions of Torah and Haftorah.  Between the foreign Prophet known as Bilaam and the familiar Prophet known as Micah the idiom ma tov recurs.  Bilaam appraises the People of Israel, exclaiming “How Good” (Num. 24:5).  Micah inquires and prescribes, “Good. How?”  Micah’s goodness-championing formula endures.  Do what’s right. Love what’s gentle.  And humbly make your way in life with God’s companionship (Mic. 6:8).  Woven together these three maxims ensure that the holy will prevent the defeat of the good. 

May our redoubled investment in religious openness harvest a faith-warming holiness worthy of the whole House of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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