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Pork on Shabbat? A New Approach to Healing America?

Pork on Shabbat? A New Approach to Healing America?

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Famed Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz invited a professor to his Talmud class at a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He asked the professor, “Why don’t you join the class? All of your colleagues come. It’s in your building — right down the hall.” The professor responded, “I don’t belong in the class. We have nothing in common.” “What do you mean we have nothing in common?” asked the Rabbi. “You don’t understand!” said the professor. “I only eat pork! On Shabbat! Exclusively!” “Only on Shabbat?” asked Rabbi Steinsaltz. “Specifically! Spitefully! On Shabbat!” “Ahh, in that case,” said Rabbi Steinsaltz, “we do have something in common.” “What do you mean?” asked the professor. I have my way of observing Shabbat and you have your way of observing Shabbat.” Both men are talking about celebrating Shabbat. Clearly, they both believe it is important or they wouldn’t bother to engage in the ritual and/or to object! So they actually agree on that point — Shabbat is important. They just don’t agree on precisely what should be done about it!

In this week’s Torah portion, we read how Avraham had a nephew (and brother-in-law) named Lot who came with him to Canaan from their homeland. After a while, it became clear that Avraham and Lot had different values. Avraham’s and Lot’s shepherds were quarreling and it got to the point where Avraham finally said to him: “Please let there be no quarrel between me and you… for we are brothers… Please separate from me. If you go left, I go right. If you go right, I go left.” Sounds like a parting of the ways, right?

Rashi repositions the statement ‘you go left and I’ll go right’ as really meaning ‘I won’t be far off and I’ve got your back.’ It sounds like such a twist of logic, but ultimately Lot required this assistance as it says “And Avraham heard that his relative was captured… [and went to rescue him.]”

But really, the question here is how do I deal with someone who is on the opposite side of an issue? Do I fight them? Do I cut them out of my life? Or is there another option? Can I say, “You and I are on two opposite sides. If you go left, then I’m going right… and yet, I’m with you. I’m there for you?” It sounds like a joke. How do you say that and mean it?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory explains that the real message of this week’s Torah portion is ‘Lech lecha!” or go beyond yourself. That is called self-transcendence. I am not limited by my own ideas, experiences and background. I can be bigger than that. I leave it behind. I move on. I let G‑d lead. True self-transcendence is not about escaping. It is about lifting your whole self up, which includes all of your associations, relationships and influences. Be self-transcendent enough to sit across from someone and say, “I think you are dead wrong on the Iran deal, on health care, on refugees, on immigration, etc… Let’s not pretend to agree, but you are my brother! You may go left and I go right — or you go right and I go left, but we are in the same boat. So I am going to be here on this side of the boat and you be on that side of the boat, but it is one boat. And we’re in this together.”

In other words, if you can say “I don’t even talk to people who believe _____ or who voted for _____ anymore. I can’t be around them. I even de-friended them on Facebook…” then that means you’re stuck insides yourself. “Lech lecha” is when you can bring all of those relationships and connections with you and retain them even when you know that you are on opposite sides of the issue.

That’s the way I need to look at it. I need to have room in my life for people who I disagree with. You’re on one side; I’m on the other. We disagree — even vehemently. We’re not resolving this now. But at the end of the day, we are two different sides who care passionately about the same issue. We are actually concerned about the same things! And that’s common ground! And I’m not separating from you! During this week, it is easy to forget “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for "Out of many, one” can be found on the Great Seal of the United States.


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