Today we wait... and follow Abraham (not Sodom!)

We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.

As I write on this post-election day, we are still waiting in limbo for results. (I still believe, as I wrote last week, that every legal vote must be counted... hang in there!)

We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.

That said, today I have a pit in my stomach, because of the degree to which yesterday's election has revealed (yet again) that our American nation is deeply divided, in ways I believe to be more fundamentally about morality than politics.

This week's Torah portion, Vayera, contrasts two radically different world-views. (Click here to read the whole parasha, Genesis 18:1-22:24.)

The parasha opens with a scene of Abraham, sitting near the opening of his tent in the heat of the day. He is there, scanning the horizon for travelers, looking to welcome them as guests. The commentaries on this Torah passage amplify the degree to which Abraham demonstrates radical hospitality, pointing to how he welcomes them and demonstrates kindness even before he knows exactly who is heading his way through the desert, although he is still recovering from his own circumcision, and even though welcoming these guests requires great effort and expense. Through this parasha and its interpretation, then, Abraham becomes a model of what it means to show hospitality, generosity, and compassion for the stranger.

Abraham's behavior stands in stark contrast to that of the city of Sodom. In the text of this week's parasha itself, Sodom proves itself to be a place where guests and strangers are profoundly unsafe. The rabbinic commentators expound on the city's depravity, teaching that Sodom was destroyed because of its cruelty to strangers and the poor, the selfishness and xenophobia of its inhabitants, and their indifference to suffering. One particularly striking midrash from Pirke D'Rebbe Eliezer even teaches that Sodom's laws were so unjust that anyone in Sodom who offered a loaf of bread to the poor or needy would be sentenced to death by burning (here's a link if you're curious to read more). In this way, Sodom becomes a model of an immoral society, as a place where goodness and generosity cannot even be tolerated.

Regardless of which way the electoral votes point at the end of the day (or week or month), we know that will have our work cut out for us. Our job is to build a society in the model of Abraham, not Sodom. Perhaps that sounds obvious, and yet, in order to achieve this vision, we will need to keep our moral compasses steady, and sway many hearts and minds in the direction of love, compassion, and generosity. This will not be at all simple. Parashat Vayera reminds us that this struggle is not new; the election reminds us that this struggle is far from over.

In any case, I know that we will continue this work together, tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that too. I remain hopeful and committed. Together, we will continue to work towards a more just and hospitable world for all humanity, following in the footsteps of our ancestor Abraham.

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum