Monday, February 24, 2014

Matters That Stand At The Top of the World

Matters That Stand At The Top of the World
From the Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

As the Bulletin deadline requires me to write this before the Gala weekend, I will leave reflections and other comments to my April and May columns. I have long contemplated the last column for June. A colleague much my senior many years ago gave me good inspiration for it.


In Hebrew there is a phrase to say that something is important: “D’varim ha-om-dim b’rumo ha-olam” – “Matters that stand at the top of the world.” Certainly each age can nominate their own. In these months my attention and involvement have been absorbed by immigration, marriage-rights, health coverage, women’s rights and gun control. The last of which I have extensively written and preached upon. It seems that every day guns are used in violent crime even when no one is killed. I am not swayed by the purported statistics that say gun violence is diminished. I have electronically badgered our representatives in every party, in the Legislature and the Congress about all these issues. The electronic forms automatically fill in my name and relevant details. Several years ago I was a member of the Board of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. It became a springboard for my involvement with an organization called Common Ground which let to participation with Virginia Organizing.  The common denominator of these organizations is that they deal with “Matters That Stand At The Top of the World.” As a Jew I – we – have a vest interest in all of these issues, besides others.

What in Judaism demands our attention to these matters?

The answer is found in the Jewish vision of humanity. While contained in the Torah, Adam and Eve and Noah are not Jewish but rather representative of the Torah’s vision of humanity. When the prophets spoke, they enunciated the vision of justice, mercy and love that transcended Jewish interests and were universal.  They include the following:

1. Every human being is God’s child. Adam and Eve are the common progenitors of every human being. On that basis, everyone in the human race is family. The differences of language, color, gender, theology and ethnicity do not alter that fundamental belief. This in reinforced by two verses in the Torah.

2. “Love thy “ray-ah” as yourself.” The Hebrew word in quotes is usually translated “neighbor” but that is not accurate. It really means: “the one standing opposite you.” It doesn’t mean other Jews, it means anyone and everyone. We are commanded to love other people with the same level of self-concern with which we love ourselves.

3. “These are the generation of [Adam] [of humanity.” The Rabbis debated the two most important verses in the Torah and these chose the one above and this one, when you translate Adam not as Adam but as humanity. It re-emphasizes that the God of creation createdall human being, that there is a common thread that interweaves all human beings. This leads to the fundamental belief that no one is greater and no one less than the other. All are equal. All deserve equally. And those that have are obligated/commanded/ required to elevate those who do not.

4. Lastly: “Be holy.” It is hard to define the word ‘holy’ without using synonyms that just go around in circles. I try to explain it by saying that it links us to or reflects in us the divine image. It is not judged by the rituals I/we observe but rather by morals that sustain and undergird my/our being.

Even as I bring my pulpit Rabbinate to a close, these issues and our Jewish vision of humanity will sustain my involvement with these organizations as I continue to campaign for that which I feel is right and just as God and Torah teaches me. I urge your involvement on behalf of these issues and with these organizations. Perhaps we can make heaven a little bit here on earth. On the issue of ‘gay marriage’ we see a beginning. On the others, we have a long way to go.

Monday, February 3, 2014

One Virginia Rabbi's Commitments to Equal Marriage

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor's writings on Equal Marriage:

Our Vision of Society Requires 
A "No" Vote on the Marriage Amendment 
"Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself" 
November 3rd, 2006

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Don’t Want to Share the Ten Commandments

I Don’t Want to Share the Ten Commandments
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
January 18th, 2014

I would like to make a controversial statement.

“I really don’t want to share the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments, with anybody. They are Jewish. They are ours. Exclusively ours.”

I am sure that you are wondering what has happened to me in these waning months that I should make should a seemingly harsh statement, but I assure you that there is deep and ample foundation and corresponding clear explanation for it. It has far reaching consequences.

I grew up with the small plaque of the Ten Commandments on the short wall in the hallway of our home. While I couldn’t recite all ten, never mind in the correct order, I knew, just by seeing it every day that this text was uniquely mine, ours. I change the language from uniquely to exclusively. It is not the details of each statement, not whether there are more or less ten commandments, or whether the first statement is even a commandment at all. It has nothing to do with sharing a moral code with the rest of the world. The essence is in the purpose of the totality of the text.

This text, embedded in the Book of Exodus, is like a ketubah. It is the marriage document of God – YHVH - and Israel, from the moment of Sinai until the end of time. If Israel would accept these terms of marriage, then God would take Israel to be His forever.

No other people can stand in that relationship.

While all people will be His children, Israel and only Israel can be His “First born.” If Israel had rejected the Ten Commandments, it would have meant more than “rejecting God.” It would have meant that Israel refused to stand in the marriage bond. When the bride walks around the groom either three or seven times, she is declaring by those circles that the bond between he and she is exclusive. Sinai, with its thunder and lightning encompassing Israel at its foot created the same imagery of exclusivity between God and Israel. Just like under chuppah, this is a two way street: YHVH is Israel’s only God; Israel is YHVH’s only people. The Aseret HaDibrot, far from being “just a text” is the instrumentality of this relationship. Just as when a couple “love each other” creating a romantic bond, it isn’t legal without the license. The Aseret HaDibrot is the license that creates the exclusive bond of Israel and YHVH. That is why I don’t want to share the Ten Commandments. I can’t, unless I want to dissolve the bond, the marriage, the covenant with YHVH. And should I do that, I forfeit the right to be Israel, relinquish the terms of the covenant, and surrender my essence and thus my existence. Israel would be over.

Several pieces needed further amplification. I don’t use the generic term “God” but rather the unpronounced but exclusive Hebrew name referred to by its four Hebrew letters YHVH. Sometimes I wish that we could pronounce it because it would enable our distinctiveness to stand out clearly. Islam uses Allah. Christianity says Jesus. Jews say YHVH. And while behind the veil there is a mystery that we cannot know about the divine thus counterbalancing these words with a sense of humility, on this side there are specific differences between that give meaning and purpose to each individual faith. We are purposefully different.

Secondly, a belief that I have often repeated, if I don’t have a purpose to my identity, if there is no motivation for me to be different, if there is no understanding to my difference, then I can easily relinquish it. Growing up I knew that I was different. Others had Christmas trees; I had a simple menorah. I went to Religious School and they went to learn their catechism. They went to CYO dances on Friday night and I went to shul. Those differences were enforced by my parents and by the society I lived in. They didn’t want me there as much as my parents wouldn’t let me. But upon leaving home, embracing the autonomy of adulthood, and as society changed, I needed core, motivating reasons to remain a Jew. There comes a moment of decision for everyone. Being a member of the faith community of Israel is to choose to embrace the covenant and to stand in relationship to YHVH. We choose to link ourselves in this bond.

Thirdly, every faith community makes its own claim of exclusive relationship with God. They must. Each faith needs to validate its existence. This is normal and natural and necessary. I respect all faiths to make such claims. As a Jew, I do too. I don’t seek to supersede any other faith. Yet I won’t be superseded either. To exist, I must stand firm and upright in believing in the correctness of my faith. Otherwise, why not give it up?

Fourth and lastly, in the essence of the marriage bond, our fidelity to YHVH was rewarded with His protection and the promise of a small sliver of land called Canaan, Eretz Yisrael, Palestine and Medinat Yisrael. From our birth, our home was, is and forever will be in Eretz Yisrael. It is hard to write this piece without sounding like a hawk, but I am neither a hawk nor a dove, even as I have alternatively embraced both sides of the political spectrum.

One of the consequences of standing in the exclusive bond with YHVH, one of the results of being Israel the people, is to have Israel the land, is to have Israel the State. Israel is a Jewish state because throughout our long history, Israel the people have remained faithful to the covenant with YHVH and this was the place promised and given to us. It is the only homeland.

Scratch the earth and you will find testimony to our residence for thousands of years. Forcibly removed by the Romans and later conquerors, it was and is our right to have returned under international law, and to defend our lives, our faith, and our people.

The nascent state pledged to respect the rights of the Arabs. If they had not invaded in 1948 they would have had their state. They sought to annihilate us. They failed. They suffer the consequences and are not rewarded.

In 1967, unprovoked except by our very existence, they again sought to annihilate the state of Israel. This one I remember. They failed. They don’t get rewarded.

If Arafat had agreed Barak’s offer they would have already had a state with nearly all the West Bank, part of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Instead he unleashed the intifadas that murdered hundreds upon hundreds of civilians. They failed. They don’t get rewarded.

To this very day, despite every reason to do otherwise, Israel offers to negotiate a respectful peace. This week was perhaps a turning point in that history. Abbas stridently rejected recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and Arab foreign ministers joined in supporting him. They again insisted on the right of return, a Trojan Horse to destroy the State of Israel. They continue to refuse to understand us and our history back to Sinai. After the Six Day War the Arab world at Khartoum issued their three “no’s” of recognition and peace. Nothing has changed except the tactics. Vice President Kerry should not be duped.

As a Jew I cannot divorce myself, we can eliminate our bond to the land and State of Israel and specifically as a Jewish state any more than I, we can divorce or separate myself, ourselves from the bond to YHVH and remain Jewish. Through Israel’s acceptance of the Ten Commandments as recorded in this week’s sedra our faith and our land are indelibly and eternally are woven together. Long ago the Rabbis declared: The Land; The People; and Torah are one.

These words are not intended to be strident, only firm. The world is too dangerous a place for weakness and self-doubt. While far from perfect, I am immensely proud that Israel is Jewish and democratic, where a person of any faith, from any place can live. I am immensely proud that separately our daughter Tzeira and her fiancée Arsen chose Israel to be their home. My family, our families, separated from the Land for two thousand years but keeping faith with YHVH has returned home. They will firmly reestablish our roots in its soil.

And this Jewish state, in Helen’s words will live forever and ever.