Posts by Rabbi Mara Young

Friday, August 13, 2021


This week’s Torah portion takes a hard line on bowing down to idols, the sun, the moon and any of the “heavenly hosts.” This anti-idolatry stance predates this Deuteronomic mandate, it even predates the 10 Commandments that outright outlaws it. The theme begins in the Book of Genesis when God creates the sun, moon and stars. The message is clear: these are physical entities that are created by and are of God, material objects that cannot possess God within them. They are simply God’s tools.

It’s an important point on the omnipresence of God: if God could be contained in a material object, or even recreated by human hands and imagination, then God’s scope and power is inherently diminished. When the ancient Israelites sought to articulate an invisible God, God as being the space in which the universe exists, rather than God residing within the universe, it was a seismic shift in perspective.

That said, while the sun, moon, stars don’t possess any God-like creative power on their own, they are powerful signs of reality unfolding - day rolls into night - the physical manifestation of the natural processes and mysteries goings-ons of the universe - also known as God.

You see, this is my God-concept. God as the invisible force in which all things exist. The Great Connectedness of reality - the Colossal Oneness of all things.

There are many God-concepts in Jewish thought - all of which are considered to be limited human snapshots, brief illuminations, half-viewed parts of the unknowable. This one, in which God is the backdrop of the ever expanding universe, is the one by which we call God “HaMakom.” HaMakom literally means “the place.”

An early rabbi, Rabban Gamliel, to elucidate this idea asked: "Why did God choose to reveal Godself to Moses in a lowly burning bush?” He answers, “It was to make the point that there is no place on earth which is devoid of God's presence." God is everything and no thing.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch expands upon this: “Rabban Gamliel's view became concretized in a bold new name for God, perhaps my favorite, Hamakom, which we might render best as "the All-encompassing One." The term expands beyond measure the indeterminate "place," "makom," of Genesis. God is now dauntingly conceived as the space in which the universe exists. God is neither outside the world nor a resident within it; the world constitutes a part of God. Transcending both gender and image, the conception expresses the grandeur and austerity of Jewish monotheism. It has the capacity to do justice to a universe more than 15 billion years old and still expanding.”

This is an important place to pause. 15 billion years old and still expanding? Rabbi Schorsch is referencing the world of physics. Normally one would expect science and religion to diverge at the point where we start to discuss the “nature of the universe” and it’s processes. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

I’m not a physicist, but I listen to them sometimes, particularly Brian Green of Columbia University. He was interviewed recently by Krista Tippet for On Being, her podcast on NPR.

Tippet and Green raised a classic science vs religion paradox: how can one believe that the universe has some unifying force, purpose or order when we know the second law of thermodynamics...that is, the concept of entropy, that “all things fall apart.” How can one believe in a higher order when we know all things decay and dissolve?

According to Greene, that would be too rash of a conclusion. He says, “the science itself makes clear that there can be these intermediate windows of time — in fact, we’re living in that window right now — when the universe can enjoy order. It can enjoy structure. It can be the home of beauty. It doesn’t last long, on cosmological scales, but here we are. We are these living beings whose bodies are so exquisitely ordered that we can have conscious experience. We can think and feel, and we can look out into the world, and we can figure things out, and we can puzzle about things, and we can have grief and joy and elation and pain. And all of that, collectively, is an enormous feat for a mere collection of particles governed by physical law, which is all that we are. And so to my mind, yes, ultimately it all does fall apart, but look how spectacular it is that we’re here, in this window, at this moment that the universe supports the kinds of structures — stars and planets and, on at least one such planet, living systems such as ourselves who can have these transcendent experiences.”

This isn’t about worshipping science or heavenly bodies, or even an anthropological God. This is about the sublime order of all reality and how we can marvel at that with awe. In my book, religion is the vehicle toward awe, not necessarily a submission to a dominant outside force as many often portray it.

And there’s more that unites physics and religion. Believe it or not, but a debate about “freewill” rages in both. Greene shares: “I don’t think that we have freedom of will in the traditional sense. I don’t think that we are the ultimate authors of our actions. I do fully believe that our actions come from the motion of our constituent particles that are fully governed by physical laws. So I think our brains are really good at concocting a narrative whereby our actions fit into a coherent story, but that story itself suggests that we are the author of that story, when it’s actually the laws of physics, if you will, that’s the ghostwriter behind the scenes.”

What he calls the laws of physics, I call God - the ghostwriter behind the scenes. Which helps us theological-types to work out how there can be free will with an omnipotent and omniscient God. Science tells us that reality has predetermined outcomes. Some religion tells us that too. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to act in moral ways and make choices for the better good. Even a physicist would argue that our actions matter here and now, no matter the chaotic, destructive direction nature is heading in.

Perhaps this is why, when someone dies, we say, הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם - HaMakom y’nachem etchem - May the All-encompassing One (may God) comfort you. Sure, this could be imagined as God placing a hand on our shoulder. can convey something more, like “may you be comforted in knowing that life and death are part of the natural processes of existence, processes we cannot control.” And with that said, the life they lived, and the life you live now, matter.

Midrash recounts how Abraham, the first Jew, was able to first conceive of God as the All-Encompassing Space in which all things exist:

"One night, upon seeing the moon and stars, Abraham said, 'The moon must have created heaven and earth and me. The stars must be the moon's princes and courtiers.' So all night long he stood in prayer to the moon. In the morning, the moon sank in the west and the sun rose in the east. Then Abraham said, 'There is no might in either of these. There must be a higher Power over them - so to God will I pray, and before God will I prostrate myself.”

Abraham humbled himself not to a thing, but to the knowledge that something bigger lies beyond the natural world and a human’s ability to conceive of it. That humility is what drives us to act in service of one another and, in doing so, in service laMakom - the great Unity of it all.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Pandemic Nostaligic

In the early days of the pandemic (which we didn’t know were the “early days” of what will be now a 2 year slog), we waxed poetic on what we had learned as a society. A video went viral of Tom Roberts - a guy my age who makes internet videos - reading a child a “bedtime story” called The Great Realisation. He imagined a vaccinated world after the pandemic, and what it would look like. He began:

“It was a world of waste and wonder, of poverty and plenty,
Back before we understood why hindsight’s 2020
You see, the people came up with companies to trade across all lands
But they swelled and got much bigger than we ever could have planned
We always had our wants, but now, it got so quick
You could have anything you dreamed of, in a day and with a click...
And while we drank and smoked and gambled, our leaders taught us why,
It's best to not upset the lobbies, more convenient to die.
'But then in 2020, a new virus came our way.
The government reacted and told us all to hide away.
'But while we were all hidden, amidst the fear and all the while,
The people dusted off their instincts, they remembered how to smile.
'They started clapping to say thank you, and calling up their mums.
'And while the cars’ keys were gathering dust, they would look forward to their runs.
'And with the sky less full of planes, the earth began to breathe.
And the beaches brought new wildlife that scattered off into the seas…
'Some people started dancing, some were singing, some were baking.
We'd grown so used to bad news but some good news was in the making.
'And so when we found the cure and were allowed to go outside,
We all preferred the world we found to the one we'd left behind.
'Old habits became extinct, and they made way for the new.
And every simple act of kindness was now given its due.
'But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?'
'Well, sometimes, you got to get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.
'Now lie down, and dream of tomorrow, and all the things that we can do.
And who knows, maybe if you dream strong enough, maybe some of them will come true.
'We now call it the Great Realisation, and yes, since then there have been many.
'But that's the story of how it started, and why hindsight's 2020.'

At the time, it was so uplifting, encouraging, it made it feel like all our actions were worth it.

But 2020 became 2021 and our patience for bedtime stories and compelling poems has waned.

Perhaps it is because at this moment, a new variant has us scared and confused. The conflicting science and lack of clear guidance has us fatigued.

Or, could it be that we haven’t actually learned all the lessons we thought we did? Could it be we need more time?

Back in June, Stephen Collinson of CNN wrote:

“The joy of family reunions, delayed weddings, the urge to travel and traffic returning to clog city freeways speak to a national reawakening that has seen infections and deaths shrink since early in the year. 

But such rituals have coincided with the jarring return of another quintessentially American rite: the mass shooting, 10 each on the last two weekends alone. Cities like San Francisco and New York are recalling their dangerous after dark reputations of the past. And questions are being raised over whether the pent-up frustration of months of social distancing and consequential mental health issues are combining in a fatal mix with a nation awash in firearms.

As states have lifted Covid-19 restrictions and the weather warmed, many US cities were hit by a sudden spike in gun crime, violence and homicides. Mass shootings have proliferated from Oregon to Louisiana and from Utah to Michigan. Last weekend, there were 10 mass shootings across nine states that killed seven people and injured at least 45 others…”

That same month, we got reports of airlines banning alcohol from their flights due to a higher incidences of drunk and unruly passengers. People are acting out. Not because we’re naturally violent, ungrateful beasts, but because we’re traumatized.

We aren’t meant to live as isolated ascetics. Unsurprisingly, humanity has crept back toward each other. Given the amount of psychological trauma and the fact that racist, misogynistic structures still prop up our society, it is perhaps no surprise that we emerged from our isolation more chaotic than ever.

For those with mental health struggles, they were exacerbated. For those without pre-existing conditions, the pressure has taken a toll. We tell ourselves: by doing this….I’ll feel ok. The benchmark comes and we don’t feel better. So then we say, by doing this, or when this happens….I’ll feel ok. And then we’re not.

The needle keeps getting pushed back. When we hit the benchmark and we don’t feel ok, we get angry, we feel guilty, we feel lost.

As the Delta variant moves the needle yet again, I wonder if it is possible to return to those feelings of moral recalibration. How can we tap back into that sublime state of ethical discovery? Or perhaps put differently: is there still time to actualize The Great Realisation?

Enter Torah. Torah understands people as emotional beings - speaking to us in spiritual and moral language. And it also understands us as social beings who don’t always know how to regulate those feelings. Therefore it legislates our actions. Deuteronomy, the book we are currently reading, takes great care to reiterate what these actions should be. Our tradition is so magically practical in its approach.

This week, Deuteronomy reminds us that we are an am kadosh, a holy people, that we are banim Adonai - literally children of God. It operates in the language of relationship and love, precisely what we’ve been reflecting on throughout quarantine. It reminds us that we are of God and therefore capable of demonstrating tremendous love.

This God-like emotional energy alone is pure and creative, but when applied to the human world, easily turns destructive. Hence the need for a religious code and a roadmap for living. Hence all the laws we get in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh.

Torah itself is “the Great Realisation” - the idealistic projection of what the world and we can be. And like our ancestors this week, specifically Moses, we find ourselves on the cusp of the Promised future but not yet ready, or allowed, to go in. We’re still “in the thick of it,” so to speak.

Which is why I keep coming back to a piece that Sam Anderson wrote for the NYTimes called “The Truth about Cocoons.” Cocoons - the kinds butterflies emerge from.

He asks: “What is it actually like inside a cocoon? Is it cozy and peaceful? Or cramped and dim? Is the bug’s stay voluntary, involuntary or something in between? And what really happens during that seemingly magical change? Is it inspiring and wondrous? Or is it unpleasant and grim? What did I not learn in kindergarten?

It turns out that the inside of a cocoon is — at least by outside-of-a-cocoon standards — pretty bleak. Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self--imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar — a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs...

Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin. Inside that gruesome mush are special clusters of cells called ‘‘imaginal discs,”...[these discs are] basically the seeds of crucial butterfly structures: eyes, wings, genitalia and so on. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.”

We are still in the grisly desolation of a global pandemic - and not just because the Delta variant has us masked up and staying home again. We’re still mid-#metoo. We’re still asserting that Black Lives Matter. Extreme weather is causing homelessness, famine and poverty. We are still in the deconstructed soup of it.

But this fact, as grim as it feels, does not negate all the blessings we’ve discovered in our hearts during this time. In this primordial goo of our reinvention, those holy feelings of love and connection that we are discovering are exactly what we must gorge ourselves on; feeding on it long enough to translate those feelings to action and finally emerge transformed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Emotion Contagion

Last weekend’s NYTimes had an op-ed from Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton. It questioned this new, prevalent disease we all are facing: the ailment known as “Zoom-fatigue.” Symptoms include lack of productivity, lack of desire to interact on the computer, and abstaining from online communal gatherings and webinars. Researchers have suggested that Zoom-fatigue stems from sitting still, feeling self-conscious about seeing yourself on screen, and the cognitive load of reading glitchy facial expressions.

Yet Grant questions this modern day malady. He offers an alternative theory: The languishing we feel, the malaise we felt and may still feel in our everyday lives may not have been from Zoom itself. It may actually be the product of something called “emotional contagion.” “Emotions,” he explains, “are like contagious diseases: They can spread from person to person…[it is literally being] infected with other people’s emotions.” He continues: “the science of contagion suggests that the negative emotions we feel from video-call overuse could be partially driven by hours of communicating with people who are also sad, stressed, lonely or tired.”

So it turns out COVID isn’t the only virus being passed around. Before COVID, more acutely in the pandemic, and even when it's over, turns out we humans have a knack for transferring our negative emotions from one person to another. This doesn’t only happen from face-to-face interaction, but also from interaction on social media and text messages.

But before we make things worse by disseminating this bad news, it turns out that emotional contagion is just as virulent for positive emotions as it is for negative ones. According to the research, peak happiness, while achievable individually, is even more attainable in group settings.

Grant says, “We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. Collective effervescence is the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service or teammates on a soccer field. And during this pandemic, it’s been largely absent from our lives.”

This explains our desire to get back to concerts, plays and even into this room for services. It goes beyond fun beyond being in a flow state. We get internally charged by the shared project of joyful activity. We literally light each other up.

Before Covid, research showed that more than three-quarters of people found collective effervescence at least once a week and almost a third experienced it at least once a day. Go from that to zero. The last year and half, we’ve been sharing our negative emotions and have little positive ones to pass around.

Religious ceremonies and observances, particularly in Jewish tradition, exist to share these positive emotions. Passover? The joy of freedom. Tu b’Shevat? Appreciation for nature. Hanukkah? The thrill of beating the odds. Even Yom Kippur, which, while solemn, is not sad. Yom Kippur - inviting awe into our lives.

That all said, cut to Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, which begins tomorrow evening. Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple - not once, but twice - as well as all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout time. Expulsions, inquisitions, pograms, massacres and genocide. Traditional Jews fast, avoid using luxury items and bathing. It is a day of collective mourning, 24 hours of sharing dirges and verses from the Book of Lamentations. We gather together and sit on the floor. Weeping and hungry, we pass around nothing but negativity and sadness.

Or do we?

Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, reads as an elegy. It describes the siege and destruction of Jerusalem: a place once alive with the busyness of life is now desolate and charred. Hunger, thirst, rape and pillage linger in its stones. Lamentations 3 describes teeth broken on gravel, a person’s soul ground to dust. “My life was bereft of peace, I forgot what happiness was. I thought my strength and hope had perished before the Eternal.”

But just uttering the word hope sparks something within the narrator. At this point, their mood turns. “But this I call to mind, I have hope...God’s kindness has not ended, God’s mercy is not spent...God is my portion, I say with a full heart, therefore in God I hope.”

As the narrator speaks, as we continue to read, hope breaches our darkness. Its light increases the more we call upon it. We utter the word once. Then again. Then it merges with the word of our neighbor. Hope. What once was a whisper is now a melody. Connected more, is now a chorus. Hope. Pass it on.

I doubt many of us would call Jewish culture “optimistic.” We’re notoriously cynical, sarcastic and realistic. But we are a hopeful people. How can that be? What is the difference?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things takes a great deal of courage to have hope...hope is what transforms the human situation.” It’s an important distinction he makes: optimism can be naive. In a way, it yields any responsibility. Hope, though, is a building block on which our souls and our society get stronger.

He reminds us that we Jews, knowing what we know of history and humanity, are uniquely positioned to lead with hope and build a happier world.

In this week’s Torah portion, D’varim, Moses is nearing the end of his life and he begins to recount the years in the wilderness. The Book of Deuteronomy is his own re-telling. He leads with stories of Israelite bickering, their complaining, their great transgressions against each other and God. This was his greatest frustration, afterall.

But then he reminds them, in Deut 2:7 - “Indeed, the Eternal your God has blessed you in all your undertakings. God has watched over your wanderings through this great wilderness; the Eternal your God has been with you these past forty years: you have lacked nothing.” There’s a refrain in his remarks: you went somewhere, you sinned, but then God told you to get up, go on, get moving from there. “Don’t fear,” the portion ends, “the Eternal your God will battle for you.”

Our ancestors had no naivete. They were anything but optimists: from the grumble and doubt of the wilderness, to the anguish and melancholy of our many catastrophes, they knew the world was harsh. Yet they held the radical notion that we can muster enough courage, build enough hope to do so. This would and will only happen by sharing that hope, by leaning on one another. There is an imperative to share in as many moments of collective effervescence as we can muster - on Zoom and elsewhere. Lamentations ends with:

השיבנו יהוה אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם

Take us back, Eternal One, to Yourself, And let us come back; Renew our days as of old!

Return to one another, return to our communal spaces - either virtually or in person - and return to God - the infinite Oneness, the song of joy that pervades all that is.

Friday, July 2, 2021

It is Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future

Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who is credited with saying “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” While at first this proverb feels like something Yogi Berra may have said, Bohr’s life story is a manifestation of the maxim’s truth.

By all measures, Niels Bohr had a predictable life. For starters, he was a physicist. His job was to predict how the universe would interact. He was so good at this predicting that he won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on atomic structures. 

His mother was Ellen Adler, a member of a prominent Jewish banking family. Bohr did not necessarily consider himself Jewish, having been christened in the Lutheran church. His wealth and privilege afforded him an education, which would have been a good enough indicator of his future success. Paired with his innate ability, perhaps it was predictable that he’d achieve such academic and public success. 

But what made him remarkable is what happened after the predictable timeline. As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930’s, Bohr chose to use his prestige to save many Jewish lives. As you may be aware, in 1933, the Rockefeller Foundation created a fund to help support refugee academics – particularly Jewish ones - who were at greatest risk. Bohr met with the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Max Mason, during a visit to the United States and secured a plan. Bohr offered the refugees temporary jobs at his institute, providing them with financial support and arranging for them to be awarded fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation. Ultimately it was all with the goal of placing them at institutions around the world, shepherding them to safety. He saved hundreds of lives.

Predictably or not, in 1940, his own life came into danger. The Nazis invaded Denmark and Bohr got word that the Nazis considered him Jewish on account of his mother. Like many Danish Jews, he fled to Sweden by way of fishing boat and his was able to find passage to the US. Yet he refused to leave Sweden until he had had an opportunity to meet with King Gustav V, whom he helped persuade to make public Sweden’s willingness to provide a refuge to Danish Jews. Soon after, in early October 1943, the great exodus of 7,800 Jews across the Oresund Sea took place.

When Niels arrived in the US, he became part of the Manhattan. Yet even from there he took an unexpected turn. He was an early defector from using nuclear technology for weapons and directed his energy toward peaceful applications.

Bohr is right, then. It’s hard to make predictions, particularly about the future. His life story is an example of how one may try to predict a great many outcomes, but it is the choices we make in the face of unpredictable challenges that dictate what the future will hold. The future cannot be predicted, it can only be directed by our actions.

Bohr’s story feels meaningful to me this Shabbat for two reasons. The first is because of two very strange objects that appear in this week’s Torah portion. Numbers 27:21 talks about Joshua’s promotion within Israelite leadership. Joshua and the new High Priest, Eleazer, are to consult the “Urim and Thummim” in rendering decisions and choosing next steps for the community. The Urim and Thummim are two stones, we think, that were part of the high priest’s breastplate. Scholars are generally stumped on how they were used, but we think the stones served as a sort of proto-Ouija board. The function remains a mystery, but it seems safe to say that the Urim and Thummim were tools to decode prophecy and help point the community in the right direction.

Somewhere along the way, they fell out of vogue. Maybe because our ancestors felt, much like many of us, that this feels like a whole lot of superstitious mumbo jumbo.

But it would seem that consulting the Urim and Thummim regarding the future is not too unlike Niels Bohr’s life story and how we can live our lives. Rather than ancient magical divination tools, perhaps the Urim and Thummim were the means by which Israelite leaders took the reality of their moment and analyzed it. Perhaps they were a “values lens” by which they interpreted the circumstances and developed a way forward most in line with what they believed to be the most just outcome. They were just a tool through with the community’s values, and God’s commands, were articulated.

Which leads to the second reason Bohr’s story seems significant to me on this Shabbat. As I join you in forging Woodlands 3.0, I’m reminded that we can predict, we can plan, and despite our efforts, we can never know what the future holds. We can, however, take the time to reflect on the values that are most important to us and resolve that even in the most tumultuous, contentious moments, to trudge forward, acting in accordance with those values.

And I believe we do a good job of this at Woodlands. Isn’t this precisely what did throughout the pandemic? In every hard choice to close, to mask, to distance, to change it all, we led with our values. And lest you think me just self-congratulatory of our community, I see our frequent lauding as a reaffirmation of what we stand for: egalitarianism and diversity, an embracing of modernity, a desire to innovate and to constantly level-up not just as Jews but as people.

So as we return to our sacred space, and as we assume new and old positions within the community, let’s accept that we cannot make predictions, especially about the future. That said, we can resolve to choose our future – to make it one we are proud of. We know we’re on the right track, because we are choosing this future together.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Profaning Thy Name

The Torah portion this week, Emor, warns us three times about profaning God’s name. By Torah’s terse language standards, this threefold caution is like a flashing neon sign: “stay away from God’s proper name.”

What is God’s proper name? Well, I can’t really tell you because God’s name is a phonetic impossibility. In the Hebrew it is spelled yod-hey-vav-hey but it is used throughout our tradition, from Torah to liturgy, without a pronunciation key. We know it’s holy, but we do not know for sure how to pronounce it in all its glory.

According to tradition, the only time God’s actual name was spoken aloud was once year at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and call out the name. Unfortunately, no one could hear him outside. Thus, since the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE, no one has uttered the actual name of God with clear certainty that they’ve said it correctly.

No wonder our rabbis see pronouncing the Holy name as a terrible sin. If I take umbrage with being called “Mah-ra” instead of Mara, imagine how offensive would it be to pronounce God’s name wrongly? Perhaps this is better. If we don’t know God’s name, we can’t profane it. We can’t mock it. We can’t forget it. It exists outside of and above our feelings about it.

So then what are these words we have been using? We certainly have named God numerous times in our service so far. Well, Adonai is ok to pronounce because it’s a human title for God – it translates to “my Master.” And the word “God” comes straight out of the Germanic language family…so that’s ok too. Plus there’s a ton of other euphemisms - Avinu Malkeinu, Hashem, Hakodesh Barekh Hu, etc.

Yet despite all of these designations for God, the name derived from Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey is the most holy. Our greatest clue to understanding the name is in Exodus 3:13-14. When God appears to Moses in the Burning Bush episode, Moses is told to return to Egypt to free the Israelites. But Moses objects to God saying that the people will not believe him. He says, “When they ask me ‘What is the name of this God who sends you’ what shall I tell them?” God says to Moses, ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh,’ (I Am That I Am…which can also be translated ‘I Will Be What I Will Be.’ And God says, ‘Tell the Israelite people, “I Am has sent me to you.”’”

The connection to the verb “to be” indicates that God’s name has something to do with God’s transcendent nature. God is everything and no thing at the same time. Where is God? Everywhere and nowhere. God just…is.

This has us see God as an entity bigger than what we can fathom. If our human brain cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the universe’s totality, how could our lips possible wrap around the sound of it? Indeed, if we knew the true “name” for God, wouldn’t we have inherently diminished what God is? Made God more human? We’d be wading into the waters of idolatry.

God’s name isn’t really a name at all…it’s a clue into God’s essence.

It’s different for us humans, though. Our names are essential to how we navigate the world. We choose new names when we want to mark a change in our identity. Our names come with ever-evolving reputations, impressions and assumptions attached to them – either from within our own psych or outside forces. The Israeli poet Zelda famously wrote:

Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

Zelda begins with the name God gave us, which is unknown and undefined, much like God’s own name. After all, we are b’tzelem Elohim, created in God’s imprint. Like God, our potential often goes unrecognized. Our infinite dimensions are only partially explored. We may spend our whole lives trying to discover these, just as we reach for the many dimensions of God.

She follows this with “the name given by our parents” may or may not speak to who we are. Our past often traps us, the trauma of the previous generations has been handed to us against our will. Yet, we have the power to change that name, literally or not, by the way we comport ourselves: when we smile, how we dress, when we choose to take a moment for gratitude and when we roll up our sleeves and get to work.

In talking about mountains and walls and longings, Zelda expresses how our names are determined by the limits we set for ourselves. Limits can suppress us and, at the same time, they can make us safe. Similarly, the name our enemies give us may be as cherished as that our friends call us by – what may be a slur from our foe may be in fact be a badge of honor. With all that, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what Zelda means by “Each of us has a name given by the seasons and given by our blindness.” I think about it especially in this season, the season reckoning with systemic racism, misogyny and abuse.

For example, the New York Times recently printed an OpEd from Planned Parenthood, where the organization named Margaret Sanger, their founding mother. Once venerated, they laid bare her complicated history: which includes racist choices and policies influenced by eugenics. Instead of ignoring this, and instead of explaining it as “a product of her time,” Planned Parenthood declared it wrong and corrected the narrative around the Sanger name. They wrote: “Sanger remains an influential part of our history and will not be erased, but as we tell the history of Planned Parenthood’s founding, we must fully take responsibility for the harm that Sanger caused to generations of people with disabilities and Black, Latino, Asian-American, and Indigenous people.”

A similar reckoning has been happening in the last few months, even in the last week, within our own Reform Jewish community. Names of leaders within our movement that for so long had been venerated and respected have been placed before us as criminal. Reports of abusive and predatory behavior were publicly attributed to them. It has been difficult for many in the Reform Jewish community to hear the names of their beloved professors, rabbis, and leaders talked about in this way.

In these cases, though, these people have earned the name given by their sins.

The end of this week’s Torah portion relays a difficult story: an unnamed man gets into a fight with another unnamed man. In the midst of the squabble, the first man blasphemes the proper name of God, using it in a profane context, invoking it carelessly. He’s made an example of by being taken out of the camp and stoned.

We don’t know the man’s name. He’s only identified as the son of Shlomit, of the tribe of Dan. Rashi explains that when someone has done something wrong, even when their name has been forgotten, their shame still remains on their parents, on their tribe, and on our people.
Today, we don’t stone blasphemers, people who have profaned God’s name by inflicting harm on others. But we are taking them outside of the camp, refusing to connect our names to theirs.

Our responsibility is to constantly hold our community to a higher standard. We must take as much care with our own names as we do with the name of God.

This is why Proverbs (22:1) states: “Choose for yourself a good name above wealth, it is worth more than silver and gold.” And why Rabbi Shimon said, “There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. However, the crown of a good name is greater than all of them.” (Pirkei Avot 4:13).

This week Torah tells us: “You shall faithfully observe My commandments: I am the Eternal. You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the Eternal who sanctify you, I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God, I the Eternal.” God’s name is more than a moniker. God’s name is affixed to the miracles we witness – from the splitting of the sea, to vaccines, to the name of the liberation movements reversing the current of our culture, bringing justice in its tide.

God’s name is unpronounceable because God’s nature is infinite. We exhibit a fraction of that: when we die, what’s left of us is our name and the legacy attached to it. May we choose for ourselves a good name, may our actions speak to the highest estimation of what we can be. May we craft that name b’tzelem Elohim, striving for holiness in the names to aspire to.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Meditations of the Heart

Delivered at 1st Reformed Church in Hastings as part of a pulpit exchange weekend.

As Pastor Emily pointed out this last Friday, each of our communities designates certain scriptural passages to be read each week. This week, our readings are linked through the 10 Commandments. In synagogues, we’re reading about the Golden Calf episode and exploring the Israelite’s transgression into idolatry. This morning, I want to tackle a different commandment.

Let’s start with the organizing principle of the decalogue. Rather than calling them the 10 commandants, we could rename them the 10 commitments, or the 10 relationship standards. The first half (roughly) are promises we make vis-à-vis God. We promise to respect God’s transcendent nature and create sacred moments in time as a way to honor God’s creation. The second half are agreements vis-à-vis people: honoring our parents, respecting life and livelihood, and the rules that make for an ethical society.

The 10 Commandments range in their feasibility. Don’t murder? Easy enough.  Don’t bear false witness? Achievable too, if you put some oomph into it. Honor your parents? Challenging sometimes, but do-able.

The most elusive commandment, I argue, is not to covet – that is, not to want what others have. In the other commandments, you might have the thought to murder, or to lie, but you decide not to act upon that thought and therefore keep your commitment to that law. With “do not covet,” we are told not to think the thought at all. That’s a tall order, especially for something so instinctive and natural to animals like us. Of all the commandments, this is likely the one we transgress the most.

Abraham Ibn Ezra, a great sage of 12th century Spain, wonders how God can legislate our feelings. He explains that “desire itself cannot be absolutely legislated but we can learn to condition ourselves as to what is realistic desire and what has to be confined to the realm of mere fantasy – for both moral and practical reasons.”

The general remedy, he says, is being content with what you have. If you take delight in what you have, it is less likely jealously and desire for more will creep in.

So the commandment is not so much “do not covet” as much as it is “practice contentment” and delight in what you have. This is where religious practice comes in. It helps us to work those muscles.

In Judaism, we tend to do it by telling stories:

We tell the story of Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol, for example, who lived in the area of Ukraine for most of the 18th century. He was a well-known tzaddik (a righteous person) and part of the great Maggid of Mezeritch’s inner circle. He’s known for his particularly progressive take on life.

For example, a man once visited the holy Maggid of Mezeritch and said he had great difficulties applying the Talmudic principle that "A person is supposed to bless God for the bad just as one blesses God for the good.” He just couldn’t wrap his head around it or practice it in his own life. The Maggid told the man to find the Rabbi Zusya and ask him for help in understanding. The man went and found Rabbi Zusya, who received him warmly and invited him to his home. When the guest came in, he saw how poor Rabbi Zusya’s family was: there was almost nothing to eat; the whole family, including Rabbi Zusya was beset with afflictions and illnesses. Nevertheless, Rabbi Zusya and his family were happy and cheerful. The guest was astonished. He said: "I’m here because the Holy Maggid said you could show me how is it possible to bless God for the bad in the same way we bless God for the good." Rabbi Zusya said: "This is indeed a very interesting question. But why did our holy Rebbe send you to me? How would I know? He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering."

Indeed, there are lots of stories of Reb Zusya’s contentment with his lot. Yet there was one moment in his life where his we learn how this came to be:

The story is told that when Rabbi Zusya was on his deathbed, his students found him in uncontrollable tears. They tried to comfort him by telling him that he was nearly as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham, so he was sure to be judged positively in Heaven. He replied, "When I get to Heaven, I will not be asked “Why weren't you like Moses,” or “Why weren't you like Abraham.” God will ask, “Why weren't you like Zusya?"

In this case, Zusya does not covet possessions or material things, he doesn’t covet the prestige of the great sages before him - he regrets the missed opportunities to self-actualize, to find all the unique ways he could draw the world closer to God. 

Yet Zusya’s great sadness exposes his righteous nature. His story teaches us that there are two ways to interact with God’s creation: on the one hand, we can consume it, take in as much of it as we can, coveting more and more. This is the thirst that depletes the natural world, our trust in one another, and our moral energy. This is what the 10 commandments warn of. Coveting, in this sense, is a form of idolatry.

The other approach, the one Zusya embodies, is to desire to add to God’s creation, to work as a partner with the Divine to fill the world with soulful acts. To fear that we’re not contributing enough means we acknowledge the greatness of it all. We hope to transform this into a sense of purpose. Indeed, if we are striving to produce more than we take, then we will find contentment with what we have. We’ll turn less to feelings of jealousy and the destructive behaviors that may result from them. Indeed, the sage Sforno says that the sin of coveting is part of the “big ten” because it’s dangerous; it is a feeling that easily leads to the other sins: stealing, lying, etc.

I think this is the Torah’s interpretation to what it means to live life with “no regrets.” It’s not so much checking off boxes on your “bucket list” per say, but knowing that the amount of blessing you brought into the world outweighs the ways in which you depleted the goodness already in it.

I think about this a lot in relation to my grandmother. She died three years ago on Mother’s Day, just days before her 92nd birthday. Before you’re horrified by that fact, that she died on Mother’s Day, you must know that it was so my grandmother to die on Mother’s Day. That’s because it embodies who she was: the matriarch of our family - revered, dignified, demanding, loving, and absolutely NOT a shrinking violet…a woman who wouldn’t concede her death to any other day but the one already set aside to honor women like her.

I had the blessing of sitting with her for three days while she was in hospice in Florida, experiencing some profound moments along the way. On Monday, she could hold a short conversation, on Tuesday she could respond with smiles and nods, on Wednesday, just a recognizing glance. 

Shortly after I arrived by her side, she mentioned how she was ready for death. She was ready to “flow out,” she told me. How could she be so sure of this? I wondered. “I have no regrets” she told me, over and over. 

Indeed, hers was a blessed life in many ways. But I don’t think she was thinking about the comfortable lifestyle she lived as much as she recognized the fullness of her days and the blessings that she birthed into this world. 

As her frail body thinned and faded, I believe she recognized the robust beauty of what she was leaving behind. Her muscles were no longer needed by this world, and even though they fought for another few days, they eventually conceded and went to sleep, letting the bodies of those she mentored and loved take up the weight of life’s purpose.

Psalm 90 encourages us: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. When we take an account of our lives, “no regrets” should mean that we saw value in every moment and took the opportunity to churn out as goodness as our bodies and hearts can muster.

The commandment of “do not covet,” says Rabbi Ibn Ezra, has us condition our actions so that we can condition our minds. Prayer is but one way we practice this and learn to look in instead of gazing out. Instead of having eyes on what others have, we turn our attention to our own hearts.

Psalm 19, which we just read, ends with “y’hiyu l’ratzon…” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer. I find it meaningful that the psalmist draws together our outward actions – the words of my mouth - and our inner feelings – the meditations of my heart. It is so natural for the two to separate. Yet the more we act for justice and work for peace, the more we will condition the natural inclination of our hearts into something acceptable to God – hearts full of a true desire to bless God’s creation, our families, and the beautiful communities we seek to form. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Less Is More

The Torah portion this week - Mishpatim - could be renamed a myriad things: crime and punishment, law and order, or simply actions have consequences. The most famous injunction to come out of it is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” We moderns identify this particular phrase as an echo of the Babylonian law code of Hammurabi, and in fact, the two are probably related. 

Yet there are two big differences, both of which we Israelite descendants can be proud of. First, in Hammurabi’s code, there is explicit mention of enacting physical punishments that equally match the crime. A broken bone means a breaking a bone. A tooth knocked out means a dental extraction. Yet when it comes to the Hebrew Bible, archaeologists, scholars and the rabbis warn against understanding the phrase literally. Instead, it seems pretty clear from the context and the archaeological record that “an eye for an eye” refers to financial compensation and carries a greater message of simply making sure the punishment (typically a fine) fits the crime.

The other main difference between Hammurabi’s code and its cousin here in Exodus has to do with social status. While the crime may be the same, the Babylonian laws differentiate the proper punishment depending on the social status of the offender and the victim. So, if an aristocrat destroys the eye of an aristocrat, his eye is destroyed. But if he destroys the eye of a commoner, he simply pays one mina of silver.

Compare this to Exodus, where the only class differentiation is between slaves and freepeople. But even at that, the status of “slave” or “free person” doesn’t come into play in the same way here. Slaves are clearly seen as human and the portion this week asserts that. Mishpatim says that when a freeperson strikes the eye of a slave, and destroys it, that person should let the slave go free on account of the lost eye. The text asserts the humanity of the ancient slave, and it’s cautioning against abuse of power and status.

Conceptually, the laws of the United States look like the modern update of these ancient Jewish values. Our legal and penal systems endeavor to give people fair trials and fair punishments. Yet you don’t need me to tell you that there is room for improvement. Tonight, I’ll highlight just one way the penal system falls short in this capacity. And importantly, I’ll tell you how you can help restore the ideals our tradition preaches this week.

First, I’ll tell you what you know: when a person is convicted of a crime, they may be sentenced to time in jail. Going to prison, even for just a day, can have a massive impact the trajectory of a person’s life. If they can’t show up to work, they will likely lose their job. No job means no money, which can mean financial strain and homelessness. Their chance of getting a job when they get out of jail is lower. If they have kids, they will need to scramble to find care for them, and often the relationship between parent and child is strained or broken from the time away. We know that prisons are often overcrowded and taxing on the economy.

But, for now, jail is one of the punishments you may face for breaking the law. So when someone has served all or part of their time, they may be released on parole. Parole, in theory, helps a person effectively re-enter society. But herein lies the rub. We do little to help people re-enter the workforce, find housing, and otherwise get back on their feet. Our society, in an attempt to be “tough on crime,” is preoccupied with recidivism, reoffending or recommitting a crime. If you break the terms of your parole, you are likely sent back to prison as punishment. The concern is that the person is a public safety threat and we have to send a strong message to scare them straight.

But get this – in New York, only 14% of people on parole who are reincarcerated return to prison because they are convicted of a new crime. 65% go back to prison due to “technical parole violations.” Technical violations are behaviors like missing curfew or missing a check-in meeting. A technical violation often means being sent right back to jail. But the failure to comply with parole terms doesn’t necessarily indicate that a person is a public safety threat or will engage in new criminal activity.

Consider an individual who told his parole officer he would be returning later than usual from his job because he had to drive his inebriated boss home. They were pulled over by police because he was driving with only running lights on by accident.  “When the officer ran my license,” the individual recounted, “he saw I was on parole and arrested me for breaking curfew and coming into contact with police.”

Or consider a man named Michael Hilton, who served 17 years for robbery in a jail upstate. He came back to New York City in the midst of the pandemic, and even lost his daughter to COVID in the spring. Michael himself has a host of medical conditions. His parole officer ordered him to take up residence at a homeless shelter, but knowing the dangers of COVID and the conditions in the shelter, particularly the lack of adherence to mask guidelines, Michael feared for his life. Michael informed his parole officer of a different residence where he would be staying. A warrant squad picked him up at that residence and he was sent to Rikers. Michael doesn’t argue with the fact that he violated his parole, but his violation had nothing to do with being a public safety threat. He simply wanted to protect his life. He argues that the punishment, being sent back to jail, does not fit the crime in this case. There has to be a better, less destructive alternative.

Research has shown that technical violations and their disproportionate response do little to reduce recidivism. In fact, extending the time a person serves in jail only makes re-entry more difficult. This is a particularly pressing issue in our home state of New York. 

Two statistics related to this that are important for you to know:

1) In New York, the proportion of people who ended their parole term by being incarcerated for a technical violation – without a new conviction – is almost double the national average. This is a blemish on our state.

2) Black people are incarcerated for minor, technical parole violations at 12 times the rate of white people in NYC jails and 5 times the rate in NYS prisons. Unsurprisingly, folks, this is a racial justice issue. 

35,000 people are currently on active parole in New York State. Think of how many people will return to prison because of minor offenses. When we know about the overcrowding in our prisons, the way COVID has ripped through them, when we know how hard it is to get back on your feet and how the system disrupts lives and families, how can we stand idly by?

Yes, crimes deserve penance. But Torah teaches us that a) the punishment must fit the crime and b) we must make sure everyone is treated the same under the law. Torah teaches that a moral system works toward restoration, not perpetual condemnation.

Which leads me to what you can do. Right now, 226 organizations have signed on to the Less is More Act, a bill gaining traction in New York State. RAC-NY, our regional Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism lobbying group, is one of those organizations. The bill would restrict the use of incarceration for technical violations and bolster due process. It would help with re-entry and incentive positive behavior.

I’m inviting you this evening to get involved in this call to justice. Our synagogue’s Civic Engagement Task Force, in partnership with the Racial Justice Task Force, is taking up the issue and joining the coalition. The big kick off is March 1. If you’d like to be involved, please email, which will get you in touch with Andrea Olstein. The Civic Engagement Task Force is not only working on this important issue, but has worked hard in the last year to bring justice to undocumented immigrants and to get out the vote among people who are traditionally targets of voter suppression. There will be more issues to come, for sure, so please email Andrea and get involved either in this initiative or another one.

When God speaks to the Israelites this week, God says “you should not wrong the stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan” – otherwise put – do not abuse or keep down those who are most vulnerable and in need of your assistance. “If you do mistreat them,” God says, “I will heed their outcry when they cry out to Me.” Our job, Torah teaches, is to hear the cry before God does and create a system in which all can be restored to wholeness and a life of dignity.

*The majority of statistics are taken from the Less Is More informational website.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Is Nothing Sacred?

I will tell my grandchildren that when Donald Trump was elected, people protested the outcome. 500,000 people marched in the Women’s March in Washington DC. Up to 5 Million people worldwide joined them in solidarity.

I’ll recall that the size was one thing, but the tenor was another. As we marched, we were astounded by the lack of violence. No arrests. Not a shot fired. 5 million people worldwide marched in peaceful conviction. Signs raised high, singing songs of resistance.

I will also have to tell my grandchildren that when Joe Biden was elected, people protested the outcome. But then I will need to explain to them how a mob of violent extremists stormed the Capitol, infiltrating the sacred halls of Congress. Unmasked, shouting, shoving and shaking our democracy to its core. Shots fired. Five people died. A Confederate flag strode through the halls along with a man in a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.

I don’t know what I’ll tell my grandchildren next. It could be that I name this day as the day we all realized how fractured and vulnerable our nation is to extremism. That America’s dignity was permanently diminished by the ego of a man who delights in grabbing power by the groin and forcing himself upon others.

I truly hope this is not the case.

I hope I will tell my grandchildren that this was the day when democracy prevailed, the moment we crossed the aisle to declare that some values are still sacred: our union is sacred, our constitution is sacred – document evolving but rooted in Godly truths. I hope I can say that this was the day we remembered that America believes in justice, domestic tranquility, and the welfare of all.

I know that the mob and the treasonous movement behind it feels forgotten in this promise. They feel wronged and overlooked by their country. That’s the perverted thinking of white nationalism.

And yet…they need to know: you must earn the privileges America affords. You earn these privileges when you respect the democratic process. You earn it when you say no to demagoguery, when you contribute to the greater good through peaceful protest and respectfully lobbying for your cause. There is much about our country that needs to be fixed and the American way is to roll up our sleeves and get to fixing them.

This week’s Torah portion is Shemot and it has much to say about this moment in history. Shemot transports us back to when a Pharaoh lorded over Egypt. A new Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” and all that he had done for Egypt in its time of trouble. A Pharaoh who knew only power and not the public good. This Pharaoh, unlike others we see in Torah, is insecure. He fears that his power will weaken by the growth and prosperity of the Israelites. So he mounts a campaign to assert his power. He enslaves the Israelites and instills hatred for them within the Egyptian people. He tries to assert his infallibility by displaying the most fallible of traits: fear, spreading misinformation, and over-blown ego.

He not only hurts the Hebrews, but he wreaks havoc on his own people as he lets the 10 plagues rain down upon them rather than admit he is wrong and do the right thing by liberating God’s people.

We spend the beginning of Shemot waiting for Moses, the man who will stare down the bully and magically right all the wrongs. But our parsha teaches us that when the world has descended so deep into madness, liberation doesn’t happen overnight. Indeed, Moses only comes along because of the quiet power of two midwives: Shifra and Puah. These two women, in their wisdom and strength, set the dawn into motion.

Pharaoh issues them orders: when you assist the Israelite women with birth, look at the baby. If it is a girl, it lives, if it is a boy, kill it. But then we’re told: “The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.” When Pharaoh summons them to ask why they didn’t follow orders, they tell him that the Hebrew women are so vigorous, that the babies are delivered before they can even arrive to do his evil bidding.

Shifra and Puah’s righteous act of disobedience does not stop Pharaoh. In fact, he doubles down – he orders that any Egyptian who sees an Israelite baby boy should to throw him in the Nile.

But it’s this intensification, this despicable step past the imaginable, that eventually sets into motion Moses’ birthstory and the eventual redemption of the Israelites.

The message is clear: There will be leaders and their cronies who will do vile things. And even when we condemn or briefly thwart their decrees, they may continue their business, evening doubling down in their schemes.

But Shifra and Puah call to us from the past. These brave women, who hurried to the bedsides of the Israelite women, dashing from shadow to shadow so as not to be seen…calmly whispering words of encouragement, carefully birthing the next generation with confident, caring hands. They cradled a brighter day in their arms. They sang them a birthsong of resistance.

Torah says God dealt well with the midwives and rewarded them by establishing houses – distinguished lineages – in their names.

Where are those households today? Well, I saw the daughters and sons of Shifra on the senate floor. They are the senate aides, the brave, quick thinkers who carried the Electoral
College ballots from the senate-under-siege. Walking two by two, holding the brown, centuries-old ballot boxes, they carried many legacies in their hands. Writer Olivia Harvey helps us to understand the stand they took with their quiet, courageous action:

Among the photos of "patriots," as the violent rioters were calling themselves, lounging at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk, seating themselves at the vice president's post on the Senate floor, breaking windows and doors, and climbing the statues in Statuary Hall, there were also photos of the Senate aides who transported the crucial electoral ballot boxes out of the Capitol building before rioters had a chance to get their hands on the votes…The aides made sure they continued to do their job amid the security breach, thus saving America's democratic process.

It's one thing to call yourself a patriot. It’s another to act like one.

I saw the household of Puah in the picture of NJ Representative Andy Kim, who was returning to the house floor when he asked for a trash bag and helped pick up the discarded water bottles, clothing and Trump flags with his bare hands.

And finally, I see the households of the midwives in the faces of the Woodlands teens, who every two years go to Washington DC to participate in the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Seminar. They learn about the beauty of the democratic process. They spend the night preparing speeches, getting their words and facts right. They dress in suit jackets, skirts and pressed slacks. They walk calmly up the steps of the Capitol, enter its halls reverently and lobby their representatives for causes that deserve justice. They say please and thank you and they change the world.

These are the acts of patriots. Tonight, I pray for the harmony in our union, I pray that our democracy will withstand and recover from this attack on its integrity. May I one day tell my grandchildren that on January 6, 2021, in the midst of a pandemic, we saw America descend into darkness, but that the light of democracy shone through the seditious chasm tenfold.

Ken yhi ratzon.