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"All Over Again" -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 04/27/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

April 27, 2023

6 Iyar 5783

Parashat Acharei Mot - Kedoshim

As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Just a few weeks after the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to punish and silence two democratically elected representatives, the Montana House of Representatives is going down a similar path. In Tennessee, two African American legislators were expelled for violating the rules of decorum when they encouraged and participated in a protest for gun legislation in response to a horrible shooting in their state. In Montana, a transgender lawmaker is being punished for violating the rules of decorum. Her “crimes” were: (1) in a floor speech, she said that legislators would have “blood on their hands” if they passed a bill banning gender-affirming care because it would lead to more suicides among transgender youth, and (2) she held up the microphone on the floor of the House toward the gallery where protesters were screaming in support of her. It is quite clear that white heterosexuals would not have been punished in Tennessee or Montana for the same actions. In fact, in Tennessee, a white legislator participated with the two African American legislators, and she was not, in fact, punished along with them. The real “crimes” here are that representatives of marginalized populations have been given platforms to speak out against their marginalization. That makes some people uncomfortable. And, if one does not want to hear about how one’s decisions and actions may have resulted in pain and suffering for others, then why not use one’s power and authority to silence those voices causing all the discomfort? At the heart of the matter, is an inability to see and treat others as fellow human beings. In this week’s Torah portion, we read the Holiness Code which includes one of the best-known phrases in the entire Bible – “Love your neighbor as yourself - וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (Leviticus 19:18).” As I try to teach whenever I can, this translation assumes that the Hebrew word “like you – כָּמוֹךָ” is acting like an adverb – telling us how to love. But, as some commentators have pointed out, the word “like you – כָּמ֑וֹךָ” can also be an adjective describing our neighbor. If we read the verse that way, the translation would be “Love your neighbor who is like you.” The truth is that it’s impossible to love someone else the same way that we love ourselves. However, it is eminently possible to recognize the humanity in other people – even if they seem different than us at first. The second reading – treating “like you” as an adjective – makes a lot more sense to me. In Tennessee and Montana – and many places in between – we are seeing people in positions of power treating their colleagues as “others” instead of seeing their co-legislators as being “like them.” There is certainly nothing wrong with disagreeing and voting someone down. The Jewish tradition is filled with arguments and debates. However, the Jewish tradition is also careful to preserve minority opinions – even when they are voted down. The legislatures of Tennessee and Montana seek not only to defeat these minority voices, but also to erase them as if they don’t exist. And no one should be okay with that. Shalom, RAF.

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