Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Passover in Our Times: Jews and Christians Must Be Jews and Christians Even When It's Tough!

I used to think that Glenn Beck was simply one of those right wing fanatics with whom I simply disagree.

Then he offered crocodile tears on his television and radio programs regarding what he viewed as the 'downfall' of America due to the progressive agenda of our president and his administration. I became very, very skeptical.

But now that he has attacked the whole panoply of Judeo-Christian teachings regarding helping the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, I agree with Reverend Jim Wallis that people of religion should simply leave him.

The New York Times Blog site contains this article that reviews the brouhaha that erupted last week, so I don't have to go into that. However, as we approach the holiday of Passover, it is good to remind ourselves of our purpose in celebrating this holiday in the way we do.

Our Seder teaches us through sound, sight, taste, and experience that we must empathize with the plight of the stranger. But that is not its end. The purpose is to motivate us to act, to alleviate suffering, and to look toward the day when there will be no poverty and no injustice.

Judaism sometimes seems somewhat schizophrenic on this and many topics. In the Torah we read about the rewards for caring for the poor and, in almost the same breath, we note that there will never cease to be needy in our land (Deuteronomy 15:11). Perhaps this is not so much schizophrenic as it is reality. There are so many poor and persecuted people among us that we can't help but realize that we have a life-long task ahead of us. We have to strive relentlessly for finding justice and ending oppression and feeding people, even though we know we'll never cease having the need.

The Torah states one sacred obligation, perhaps two, about belief in God. (They are the Sh'ma, and the Fist Commandment that Moses received on Mt. Sinai.) However, the Torah states at least 37 times the sacred obligation to help the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. And why? Because we know the heart of the strangers, having been strangers ourselves in the land of Egypt. The priority of the Torah is very plain. What better lesson could we possibly derive from our Passover celebration?!

It seems a difficult row to hoe, but my father always said that it was hard to be a Jew. In many ways that is right. But it is also a privilege that we should never give up and never defer.

I hope you have a wonderful Passover.