In this week's parsha, Vayera, Abraham's relationship with God takes a turn. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God threatens to destroy the entire towns because they have been overrun by senseless hatred. And Abraham pleads and protests, "Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there are fifty kind-hearted righteous people within the city? Will you save it for their sake?" (Genesis 18:23). To which God agrees to save the city for the 50 people.
Abraham then bargains with God, some might even say rebukes. "Far be it from You to do such a thing," says Abraham, "killing innocent and wicked alike ... Must not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" (Genesis 18:25). What if there are 40? 30? 20? What if there are 10 righteous people? Ultimately Abraham convinces the Eternal to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if as few as 10 righteous people can be found.
And this, say the rabbis, is true prayer. To speak back to power when it is unjust. To challenge ourselves and the Holy One, to see the good in people.
This has been a raw week. This week the government is attempting to erase the existence of transpeople and the hard won protections that make our survival more possible. And in response many of you joined with thousands of people across the country to gather in protest.
Whether in response to a caravan of 7,500 Honduran refugees making their way towards the U.S./Mexico border seeking asylum or in the blatant identification with nationalism, it is fair to say that this administration is overrun by senseless hatred. And is on a path to destroy the planet. By every measure, this administration strives to scare, isolate, and dehumanize us.
And for this reason, we learn in Pirkei Avot,
ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש
"In a place where no one is human, strive to be human" (2:5).
This is perhaps our most profound resistance, our true embodiment of prayer. To strive to be human with each other in the face of so much hatred. And we are resisting beautifully. I saw our humanity tenfold this week, as everyone gathered to support Claire and Naomi at shiva. I saw our humanity in the acts of hesed to support a chronically ill community member. I saw our humanity at City Hall in support of trans lives and in the streets demanding protection for threatened gardens.
Thank you all for living into your humanity and for inspiring me to do the same.
I hope you each find time this shabbat to rest, rejuvenate and re-soul.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.