President Trump’s speech Tuesday night started impeccably, with recognition of the African American’s civil rights struggles and acknowledgement of the attacks on Jewish cemeteries and Community Centers. He affirmed that work remains to be done in these areas and that we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.
Then he said something questionable: “A new national pride is sweeping across our Nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp. What we are witnessing today is the Renewal of the American Spirit.”
I don’t mean to sound like a repeat of the Oscars, but this pride and spirit is clearly not something equally shared by our population. While thousands are cheering Trump’s revolution, many are protesting vehemently. How do we deal with such dissention in our country?
At the Limmud Miami conference two weeks ago (a Torah learning retreat), the keynote speech was given by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman institute in Israel. Based upon the following verse from our parsha, he said something very inciteful for all of us to ponder.
“There I will meet with you, and I will talk with you from above the cover, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the Testimony.” (Exodus 25:22)
Moses receives instructions for the building of a portable tabernacle to carry throughout the desert. This would be the place where God’s presence would be tangibly felt. But where exactly in the tabernacle is God’s presence at its greatest? One would think that God dwells most in the Holy of Holies, where the tablets of the Ten Commandments are kept. But that is not the answer given in our portion. Above the Holy of Holies are two Cherubim, images of two children face-to-face with wings stretching from their backs and touching above their heads. The Torah teaches that God appears between the faces of the Cherubim. This is an amazing lesson for us: where is God? God is present when two humans face each other.
God is present when one person recognizes the dignity of another person. In Israel it’ll be when Israelis and Palestinians can begin to see each other as real people, each with their own dreams and aspirations. In America, it’ll be when Democrats and Republicans can see the merits in each other’s agenda and try to work on compromise for a better country.
On the other hand, where is God missing? God is absent whenever people fail to see and feel for the other, when we turn a blind eye to other’s misfortune. God is absent whenever a person insults another. God is absent when people make racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or anti-Muslim statements, failing to see the humanity in the other.
In the ancient tabernacle God was present between the human faces of the Cherubim. In our own day, God is present when we can look each other in the eye with dignity and see them as people with needs like our own. We have Trump followers and dissidents within our own congregation. Let’s please, afford each other the respect we innately deserve and perhaps that positive behavior will then spread beyond our four walls, forging unity and beauty on its way.