Ben Herman
Building Community, One Person at a Time

Living in Action, Not in Fear

We learn from Parshat Shelach Lecha about the spies sent out and their report. We begin the journey with excitement-looking forward to hearing a wonderful report of the Land of Milk and Honey. We end with tragedy-people quickly turning an about-face toward Egypt and punished by spending an additional 38 years wandering in the desert so one generation can die and a generation that did not know slavery can emerge.

Why were the spies punished? Most say not for their report which was accurate but for the fear that they instilled in others. They did not believe in themselves or have faith that G-d was able to lead them past any obstacle that they faced. Fear ruled the day rather than hope.

When my parents moved to Arizona, they gave me books from my childhood to take back with me to Miami. One of those books was As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Towards Freedom, which I will read some of at next week’s Drive In Shabbat Jammies and Jeans. It is about how Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel took a stand and marched with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Heschel took a risk in going to Selma yet he never had a doubt that it was the right thing to “pray with his feet” and march with Dr. King.

We need to pray with our feet also and speak up against the injustices that are occurring in our country. When I moved to Jericho in 2014, it was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray. Six years later in Miami it is Breanna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. The words “I can’t breathe” filled the streets in 2014 just like they do in 2020. We are angry and upset at the lack of change. We want justice and equality for all people under the law.

At the same time we find glimmers of hope. We see the Supreme Court’s decision that discrimination not be allowed on the basis of sexual orientation. We see the police, in places like Miami, kneeling to be in solidarity with protestors. We see changes that are being made to make safer encounters between civilians and police. We cannot let fear and disillusionment rule the day. We cannot let the fear of the spies win out and incite us to freeze, throwing our hands up and being uncertain of what to do. We cannot flee from topics just because they are controversial. Rather we must fight for what we believe in, just as Rabbi Heschel fought with his feet.

I want to share with you some words from Rabbi Micah Caplan z”l, our synagogue’s rabbi from 2005-10, after the death of George Floyd as well as a poem I wrote after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in hopes that they inspire us towards action to make our world a better place:

My friends,

Last week in Minneapolis, like too many times before, we witnessed painful injustice of our brothers and sisters in the black community. We are one and when they hurt, we hurt.

No one should lose their life for going for a jog, breaking up a fight, sitting in their home watching TV, driving home from dinner, buying candy at a convenience store, or having their car break down. And no one should lose their life over $20, especially at the hand of those who should keep us safe.

As Jews, we know all too well what oppression looks like based on our history. Some of the biggest lessons learned from our past are to never forget and not be silent.

The Talmud highlights that silence equals agreement. And the Torah teaches us to not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

Elie Weisel reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” And his sentiment is echoed by so many others that have faced oppression. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This is no time to be silent. As Jews, we are taught to stand up for ourselves and others and use our voice for good. As Hillel says, ”If I am not for myself who will be for me. But if I am only for myself who am I. If not now, when.” Our fellow Americans need our help.

I urge you to find a way to express your solidarity peacefully. Consider calling your member of Congress, supporting a human rights organization, or being a good samaritan and neighbor if you see something that isn’t right.

As a people, let us be a light unto our nation.

With hope for healing,

Rabbi Micah Caplan[1]

Now I will read my poem for  after Ariela’s birth “Two World,” in the book Not by Might edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Rabbi Creditor just edited another book about clergy response to COVID-19.

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which people are loved for who they are

Or the world in which people are hated for being different?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of open-mindedness and compassion

Or the world of prejudice and racism?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which we work together

Or the world in which we grow apart?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of self-fulfillment and happiness

Or the world of frustration and anger?


In which world would be daughter grow up?

The world where guns are melted down to make building tools

Or the world where guns are used for wanton acts of violence?

I will do my part to ensure

That my daughter grows up in the world of embracing others

Loving all people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation

And pray that the world in which she will live

Will no longer know the horror of these shootings.[2]


Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to make it so.

[1] Rabbi Micah Caplan, Message to Congregation Or Tzion in Response to Shooting of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

[2] “Two Worlds.” Edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Rabbis Against Gun Violence. 2016. pg 225.

About the Author
Rabbi Ben Herman is the Senior Rabbi at Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California. He has previously created initiatives and helped implement programs such as Drive In Shabbat, a Drive Through Sukkah, a student-led musical service called Friday Night Live, Shabbat on the Beach, and the United Synagogue Schechter Award-winning Hiking and Halacha. Rabbi Herman also serves on the Rabbinical Assembly's Conversion Commission as well as its Derech Eretz and Social Action Committees. He is a Mahloket Matters Fellow with PARDES and has previously been part of JOIN for Justice's Community Organizing Fellowship as well as the Institute for Jewish Spirituality's Clergy Leadership Program. Rabbi Herman's focus is growing the membership through outreach and relational Judaism, including creating Havurot, implementing engaging programming and enhancing the Educational and Young Family programs at Mosaic Law. Rabbi Herman earned a Bachelors Degree in History, Hebrew and Jewish Studies with Comprehensive Honors in 2005 and received Rabbinic Ordination with a Masters Degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011. Rabbi Herman married Karina in June 2014, and the two of them are very excited to be living in Sacramento and in California, Karina's home state. They welcomed daughters Ariela Shira in February 2016 and Leora Rose in December 2018.
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