We will Act and We will Listen

Like many, as I reflect on the world and watch the news, I am filled with so many emotions. I am saddened by the lack of vision on the part of our leaders. I am maddened by the absence of compassion on the part of those entrusted to protect us. I am encouraged by those taking to the street demanding change. I am in awe of those risking bodily harm or death by actively engaging in the foundational freedoms that are the hallmarks of American democracy. Despite this range of emotions, I lack words. 

When The Holy One brought the world into being, it was done through spoken words. God’s actions come to teach that the greatest change – from nothing comes something, from chaos comes order – is achieved by our voices, not violence. Each successive act of Creation happened through spoken word, culminating in the most profound: 

ויאמר אלהים, נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו

God spoke, “Let us make mankind in our image and in our likeness.” Unfortunately, so many of us pay lip service to this line, failing to fully internalize that all persons are endowed by the Creator with value and holiness.  

In the wake of Shavuot, I have been thinking about the narrative around Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah) and what it can teach us relevant to this moment. We are taught that despite their fear and trepidation, B’nei Yisrael, responded, “נעשה ונשמע (na’aseh v’nishma) – We will do and we will listen.” 

There is a well-known adage, “don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” I will never be able to fully walk in the shoes worn by my siblings of color. Our experiences are vastly different. Generations of structural differences have ensured that our trajectories from the start were never on equal footing. Yet, נעשה ונשמע teaches that we must act and we must listen. We must stand arm in arm and demand change. We must make our voices heard at the ballot box. We must hold those in power accountable using all measures available in a democracy that promotes freedom under law. But, we must listen. We must open our ears and hear. Although we may never fully understand, we can listen and fight hatred and bigotry.

ויברא אלהים את-האדם בצלמו, בצלם אלהים ברא אתו

And God created mankind in the Eternal’s image, in the image of God the Eternal created mankind. If we can imprint these words on our hearts and in our minds, then we too can act and listen to be allies, friends, siblings, conscientious individuals who fight for freedom and justice.  

אדני שפתי תפתח ופי ידבר נגד עבתה

Lord open my lips so that my mouth may speak against injustice. 

About the Author
Jonathan S. Hack received his Ph.D. in political science from The George Washington University and rabbinical ordination. He is the Program Officer for the Anxieties of Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council in New York.
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