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The Blessings of Pluralism (Lech Lecha – 10/31/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

The Blessings of Pluralism
Something is confusing at the beginning of our parsha (Lech Lecha): Abraham has enemies.
Trying to entice Abraham to leave his home in the Fertile Crescent and start a new life in Canaan, God says to him (Genesis 12): “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will give you fame, and you will be a blessing.
וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and all the families of the earth will be blessed by you.”
Abraham is an inspiring man of faith; he’s a citadel of kindness. People are blessed through his presence; why would they want to curse him?
The reason is that he’s also an iconoclast, a non-conformist, a reformer. Any time one upsets the status quo, people will protest.
On this topic, the famous medieval commentator known as Ralbag (Gersonides) says, “One should strive to have many people who love you and few people who dislike you. For the things that will cause people to admire you are the same things that will cause people to dislike you.”
I live with this conundrum regularly, for a drasha (sermon) that inspires some will infuriate others. I don’t mind get criticized, for I follow the aphorism well known among rabbis: “The rabbi that everyone hates is not a mentsch. The rabbi that everyone loves is not doing his job!” It’s impossible to please everyone.
I hope those that are involved in the Merger or Reimagine MHJC committees realize this. I know both sides are taking flack. It’s precisely those noble things that you are doing that are creating opposition. It’s inevitable, but please realize that you are trying to be a blessing, and these are the consequences of trying to do something exceptional.
Ralbag’s words genuinely apply to President Trump. Rarely has a president engendered such passion from his followers and dissenters. It’s precisely what he does that makes people love him or dislike him.
I would prefer if the president had different policies on several issues, but I respect his right to formulate his own opinions.
Actually, I’ve grown tired of his comedic opponents. If you’ve watched Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, or Jimmy Kimmel for the past four years, the jokes are almost always the same, and Trump has been the butt of every one of them.
Now, I’m not saying that Trump doesn’t deserve some of them, yet we should start questioning ourselves when we are all of one mindset.
Monolithism was one of the problems from an episode in last week’s parsha, the Tower of Babel. God said,
וַֽיְהִ֥י כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ שָׂפָ֣ה אֶחָ֑ת וּדְבָרִ֖ים אֲחָדִֽים׃
“Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words” and the same ideas.
God did not create us unique and different so that we should all have the same words and ideas, so God dispersed us from one another by changing our language, which inherently changes the way we think.
Whatever the outcome is today, our nation will still be quite divided. And yet it is in that division and multiplicity of ideas, especially in the ones we consider wrong, where our challenges and growth exist.
We may not appreciate, we may even curse, those we disagree with, but it’s those people who force us to hone our thinking and beliefs. Our critics make us reassess our assumptions and help us self-define.
The downside of pluralism is having detractors. Yet, we should be comforted by the Ralbag’s words and not let them stop us from doing what others respect about us and what we respect about ourselves.
R’ Neil

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