That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. – Hillel
An aged Abraham, recovering from his circumcision, is sitting at the entrance of his tent with the hot sun gleaming above him. When he looks up, he notices three men standing near. As soon as he sees them, he runs to greet them. He bows to the ground and offers them food, water, shade, and to bathe their feet.
Think of this man, nearly 100 years old, with searing pain between his legs, running toward strangers. Why run? Why not walk gently and calmly? Could he sense that they were messengers of God? Or did he simply not want to lose the opportunity to do the right thing… to offer some travelers food, water and shade on a hot day, even when he, himself, was suffering?
We all, but particularly those of us (Jews, Christians and Muslims) who are the descendants of Abraham, have an opportunity with this week’s Torah portion to be inspired by him, and to run, not walk, toward what we think is right, even when it’s painful. And if we are paying attention, we will not miss that Abraham is running toward strangers… not after they asked for help, but simply to do something that might make their lives a little brighter.
There are many ways we can interpret who our “strangers” are. But for now, let’s consider those we think of as strangers because they hold on to different ideals than we do. It is essential that we take the opportunity to try to understand those with whom we do not agree, even on the most fundamental issues. This does not mean we have to alter our own opinions. But it does mean that our compassion and willingness to listen must reach beyond our comfort zones. It means we try to stand in another person’s shoes. It means we never forget that they have journeys full of love and pain and disappointment that brought them to their place, and that we, too, travelled through love and pain and disappointment to get to where we stand. But we share some common experiences, and so we don’t walk toward this conversation, we run toward it.
That being said, we also have to run toward conflict when we believe human decency is at stake.
Now, as a spiritual leader, I try to stay out of public politics, and I never, ever told my community for whom to vote. In fact, my community is centered around acceptance no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe. But we are also committed to protecting those individuals. So what I’m about to say isn’t about party lines or politics. My disgust has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats or Independents. We need to talk about the basic human rights we treasure in this country and that we can’t have an America where we believe anyone who isn’t exactly like us is a stranger to avoid or harm rather than run toward with good will.
I’m lookin’ at you Steve Bannon.
You seem to think the opposite sex are the “strangers”: Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy (title from Breitbart News article).
Anyone with color to their skin is a “stranger”: There’s little question that Breitbart has regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white-nationalist and white-supremacist beliefs (New York Magazine).
Those of other religions are “strangers”: Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution. “The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote (NY Daily News).
A loving relationship you don’t experience yourself is “strange”: That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England (Bannon quote as reported in Cosmopolitan Magazine).
And in case that isn’t enough for you, my dear readers, check out this guide to Bannon and Breitbart News’ “alt-right” language in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-alt-right-terminology-20161115-story.html.
This is not my America, or Obama’s, or Bush senior’s, or Bush junior’s, or Regan’s, or even Paul Ryan’s. Don’t tell me this is politics.
But, you know what? Even with all that, I stick to what I wrote. It is my responsibility as a Jew, as a child of Abraham, to welcome someone I don’t yet know or understand. And so, Mr. Bannon, I invite you to come to California and speak to our Jewish communities. Explain to all of us how these quotes and reports don’t define you. Explain to us whether or not we should accept sexist, racist, homophobic, anti- diversity attitudes in the United States of America. Help us explain to our non-Christian, non-white, non-straight family and friends why they should not be afraid. Help us understand what you feel when you look at the statue of liberty and read these words written by a female, Jewish author, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We will welcome you if you come, Mr. Bannon, in fact run toward you as our “stranger” with open arms, and offer your food, water, shade, and an opportunity to be understood.
But we will also run, not walk, toward human rights, human dignity, and caring for one another if you can’t.