D’var Torah: Respecting Differences in a Divided World

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Congregation Albert


In a Torah commentary on Parashat T’rumah (this year March 3-4) for the World Union for Progressive Judaism I wrote:

“Today, we live in a world divided. The on the surface the divide seems to be between the wealthy and powerful and those who are not. To some degree that is correct but I see it in a different light. There are those who choose the values we learn from Torah and those who do not. We all know people who regardless of socio-economic status or political beliefs either uphold our values or purposely rend them.

“I have a friend who blessed with economic wealth. He chooses to use that gift to live our Jewish values. He provides resources for education, for economic support for those who need it, and wants to expand the reach of Liberal/Progressive Judaism and the values we teach.

“Another, a political conservative to his deepest core, fulfills Maimonides’ highest level of tzedakah by providing training to the unemployed who either he hires or finds them jobs.

“Then there is my confirmation classmate who gets the little he has by stealing and dealing drugs. Another classmate supports her family and her own self-esteem by taking whatever low paying jobs she can find.

“Our Reform/Liberal/Progressive movement built its foundation on the values found in and the Prophets. Slavery in Egypt and the Exodus forged our identity as a people and expanded our understanding of what it means to be a stranger, to be seen as other. Through these past centuries we have built upon that foundation. Whether in America, Israel or the rest of the world, our calling remains to be a ‘light unto the nations.’… Our Jewish values and our Reform/Liberal/Progressive understanding of our Jewish values call upon us to fight to bring their light into our world, like the menorah would bring light to the Tabernacle.”

These values unite us as a people and as a congregation. We can and do disagree about the application of these values. After each service, someone different walks up to me and tells me they disagree with my sermon or my position. These conversations are precious to me. They help me hear and understand differing views. Truth be told, neither of us ever fully changes our position. But, the beauty, the sacredness of the moment, is the respectful exchange of ideas. I know the respect comes because we agree on the underlying value. We just disagree on the method of applying the value in the real world.

Unlike the larger community and country, we are blessed to live in, our congregation remains a place where differing ideas and viewpoints are welcome as long as their basis is in our basic Jewish values: the sacredness and dignity of all human life, caring for those in need, our responsibility to care for and improve the world God gave us, education, and respect for each other.

I invite everyone to join in sharing and debating.

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