Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
One of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons features a boy in a classroom, hand raised, as he says: “May I be excused? My brain is full.” That is pretty much the way I feel right now, after this last week’s flurry of landmark decisions and actions. I cannot recall the likes of this one-two-three-four life-changing, life-affirming whirlwind. But that’s not all that I feel.
Many are pleased as punch, some may be indifferent, and others may be irritated, but I think many of us may be saying: “My Brain Is Full.” We see so much news, hear and read so many commentaries – and it is challenging at best to really think about it all, and consider the impact of each of these actions – and how their combined power will affect us as a nation. But there is one thing for sure: it’s not over yet. Each of these decisions will create their own tidal waves. Marriage equality may have been upheld, but there is a still a lot of gender equality work to be done. Obamacare has been upheld, and the delivery system will need to be improved. Legislatures that have drawn districts that ensure a specific voting response will need to go back to the drawing board. And the issue of the Confederate flag, which was lowered only symbolically, has only just begun.
Responding with justice to all of these matters (and hundreds, if not thousands, more) is the responsibility of liberty. In these cases, our nation has joined the vast majority of civilized nations in the quest for human equality, for the right to live freely and harmlessly; to accept, or at least respectfully tolerate, views that may be different from ours; and to agree, for the welfare of our nation as a whole, not to inflict personal faith beliefs on others. That does not mean that there is a vast sliding scale of right and wrong. It means that we are all just part of a whole the sum of whose parts we cannot fathom, and we do not have ultimate control over one another. Like, what else is new? Same as it ever was…
To my non-law-professional mind, it seems that legal issues such as these are like those of thousands of years ago in that (to vastly oversimplify), laws are written to either stop people from doing something that is commonplace, or to make it legal to do something that is commonplace, or to make legal something that can, by all rights, be legally commonplace. And we can do that because we have a legal system developed by a society that was based on justice and tolerance and developed by people who knew a thing or two more than most of us do about living under oppression.
Yes, there is a lot happening – but unlike the boy in the cartoon, I don’t want to be excused. I want to be filled to the brim with the amazing possibilities of life and liberty. So even as our minds try to take it all in and sort it out, our hearts can keep expanding to embrace all members of the just society we hope and strive for.
For me, it is simply wonderful that this weekend we will be celebrating Independence Day which does, after all, celebrate liberation from those who would impose ungrounded constraints on others. And it is also the culmination of the pilgrims’ flight and plight for freedom from being persecuted for their beliefs and ways of life.
And it is also poetic that Independence Day can be seen to mark a day of utter dependence. Dependence on one another to ensure a peaceful society in which all can live without fear of harassment; or of untreated serious illness; or being disenfranchised from participating in a true democracy/republic, or of the symbol that to many denotes a proud history and to others only fear and bias. In short – we are celebrating the right for all to pursue life, liberty and happiness without causing harm to others.
Ours is, after all, meant to be a free country. Free to be – you and me.