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There’s a Famine in the Land…Yom Kippur Day 5779

Rabbi Neil Schuman

There’s a Famine in the Land…
Last night, we began with the words: (Page 339)
By the authority of the Heavenly Court
And by the authority of this earthly court,
With Divine consent
And with the consent of this congregation
We hereby declare it permissible
To pray with the transgressors
Does that mean that the Democrats in our congregation will allow the Trump supporters into our service and vice versa?
There’s such division in our country now.
In Congress, the breakdown between both sides became openly noticeable in the Obama era, when it seemed that no legislation ever passed by more than the minimal vote possible, but now this division seems to have hit new lows, becoming personal.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders is kicked out of a restaurant just because she works for the administration.
CNN reporters are thrown out of Trump rallies.
I know one friend, a Trump supporter, who left his synagogue because the rabbi was openly anti-Trump.
It seems as though every media outlet is either strongly pro Trump or anti-Trump, it’s hard to find someone that’s middle of the road.
Likewise, you can’t watch late night television without Trump being the butt of most jokes. I admit at times they’re very funny, but the non-stop nature of the derision is dispiriting. I miss the innocent days when the biggest laugh was Ford tripping on something or Bush vomiting on a world leader.
Rabbi Doron Perez, head of the Mizrachi World Movement, recently made an extremely insightful observation.  Amongst the scrolls found in the Dead Sea in the caves of Qumran there was one which has been labeled “the War scroll,” probably written by the Essenes. The text describes its followers as “the sons of light,” and all others (including fellow Jews) as “the sons of darkness.” This was no longer two groups who were debating with each other.  This was now two groups who were delegitimizing each other. It was no longer about ideas but about the person, no longer about right and wrong but about you and me. Those who think like me are “the sons of light” and bring light to the world. Those who disagree are “the sons of darkness” who are bad in morals and destroying the world.
Two weeks ago, I thought it remarkable that America was so invested in the funerals of two very different people: Aretha Franklin and Senator John McCain.
Regarding Ms. Franklin, President Bill Clinton said, “This woman got us all in these seats today, not because she had this breathtaking talent, which she did….
But because she lived with courage. Not without fear, but overcoming her fears. She lived with faith, not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power, not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses.”
Aretha Franklin’s certainly story is a great one, and her most famous song “Respect” was the theme song for the civil rights, counterculture and feminism movements. Yet, even with all these achievements, I don’t believe they are what made a whole country mourn for her.
Her eulogies listed numerous honors including singing at many presidential inaugurations:
She sang at President Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala in 1977.
In 1993, Franklin was central to President Clinton’s first inaugural celebrations.
In 2005, George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award available to citizens of the United States.
In 2009, she sang at President Obama’s inauguration.
What we see is a woman who is comfortable in both parties, her appeal was cross denominational. President Obama wrote:
“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade— our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.
She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.
Many musicians can enable us to dance, but to make us feel more connected to one another, more hopeful, more human, that’s a unique skill.
Similarly, John McCain was a talented person worthy of honor: an army veteran, a prisoner of War and a celebrated servant of the public. But it’s rare for a soldier, even a Senator to be mourned all across the country and for a whole week.
Henry Kissinger eulogized McCain with the following words: John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy.
Imagine that, working on reconciliation with the power that tortured you for five years.
There’s a Midrash, that when Aharon died, he was mourned more than even Moses. For when Moses died, it says, כל ישראל “All of Israel mourned” him. When Aharon died, it says, כל בית ישראל “All of the house of Israel”. The house of Israel means even the women. For as a lawmaker and teacher, Moses was almost solely involved with the men. Aharon though, had a tradition as a peacemaker, reconciling differences between two friends gone awry or between husband and wife. Aharon was missed by a greater number of people because he caused rifts to be forgotten, he created unity among the people.
Kissinger continues: John believed also in a compassionate America, guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand. “With liberty and justice for all” is not an empty sentiment he argued, it is the foundation of our national consciousness.
Former Vice President Joe Biden in his eulogy of McCain said: “During the long debates in the ’80s and ’90s, I would go sit next to John, next to his seat or he would come on the Democratic side and sit next to me. I’m not joking. We’d sit there and talk to each other.
“The Senate was never perfect, John, you know that. We were there a long time together. I watched Teddy Kennedy and James O. Eastland fight like hell on civil rights and then go have lunch together, down in the Senate dining room.
The last day John was on the Senate floor, what was he fighting to do? He was fighting to restore what you call regular order, just start to treat one another again like we used to.
We Jews used to have this kind of comradery. The Talmud records that the schools of Hillel and Shammai used to have fierce debates in Jewish law on a plethora of topics. They’d even be sneaky with each other, calling for votes on matters of Jewish Law when one outnumbered the other. Yet, they didn’t let it become personal. They were able to leave the arguments to the study hall and when it came to marriage, they were happy to marry their children to one another.
Nowadays, it’s another story altogether. The new form of resented intermarriage is Republicans and Democrats!
In a recent study, 49% of Republicans would be displeased if their child married a Democrat. 33% of Democrats would be displeased of their child married a Republican. In 1960, this figure was less than 5% on both sides.
Biden continues: “I think it’s because they knew John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America. He made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America.
His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves. His conviction was that we, as a country, would never walk away from the sacrifice generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and dignity around the world. He made average Americans proud of themselves and their country.
Why were these two people so greatly mourned, because they were married to their ideals more than parties, they were connectors, peacemakers and idealists.
In our day and age of division and derision. We need to ramp up on peace and unconditional acceptance of family and friends. While physical and ideological walls are going up all around us, we need to make sure that at MHJC everybody feels welcome. That in our homes, all our relatives are welcome, be they trump supporters or staunch democrats.
The Prophet Amos (8:1) predicted that ספר עמוס פרק ח
 הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יֱדֹוִד וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶּחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַּיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת דִּבְרֵי יי
“Behold, days are coming says, The Lord, and I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine for bread, nor thirst for water, but to hear the word of the Lord.”
Based upon the two massive funerals for John McCain and Aretha Franklin, I’d say America is starving for a return to ideals and unity, to connectivity and honor for one another.
I recently heard a song by Daniel Nahmod titled “Last Song,”
If this is my last song / If this is my final day
If tomorrow I’ll be gone / What do I want to say
If this is my last song / If it’s my time to go
When my body’s moved on / What will I have to show
No not fortune or fame – they scatter to the wind
The things that make a name – just don’t matter in the end
Is the world a little more peaceful
Oceans and sky a little more blue
Is humankind a little bit wiser
About the good that we can do
Does the sun shine a little bit brighter
Where before there was only rain
If so, then I’m glad I came
Have I given hope to the hopeless / Has a hungry soul been fed
Has a child stood a little bit taller ’cause of something that I said
Have I left a little kindness / Have I eased a little pain
If so, then I’m glad I came
For that, I’m so glad I came
In the upcoming year, let’s live our lives so that the world is a little more peaceful, a little less judgmental, safe and welcoming for all. Let’s try to foment that unity among us, and perhaps it will spread out to those who are starving for it as well.

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