Let me begin this article by explaining that I wrote this on Monday, when much was changing around the subject at hand. I also had intended to focus more on the magnificence of my time here at Jeremiah, and on how much I appreciate you. While I did get to address that in this article, that message was somewhat overshadowed by the seriousness of the current events. I hope, though, that you know how much I have valued your kindness and friendship through these years. Thanks for reading, and all my best wishes.
-Cantor Adam Kahan
Monday, June 18th
I’m really present to time, right now (pun intended). I have known that my moments here at Temple Jeremiah would be drawing to a close at the end of June. I realized I would have the chance to write just one more Torah article through which I could share directly with our community. Time and timing. How amazing that this is the week that I get to write to you, with this Torah portion, at these crossroads.
I do recognize there is a parting coming, in certain ways, and that certainly creates some sadness. Separation is difficult. I say this as an adult, recognizing whatever capacities I possess to deal with this separation. The same is not so available to a child. Time and timing. It’s fascinating.
What is it to read the portion this week, Chukat from the Book of Numbers, which talks about a people desperate for water in the desert? Moses sees the death of his sister, Miriam, has to deal with providing water for his people, and then sees the death of his brother, Aaron. Moses famously hits a rock a second time, maybe out of frustration, but in violation of God’s instructions. Commentators say he wasn’t patient enough…didn’t wait enough time to see if water would come forward from the rock…if God would provide. Time…when to wait…when to get in action.
Separation from beloved family, from companions…how horribly painful…. I recognize whatever capacities I have to deal with this separation. The same is not so available to a child.
What is it to wander through a desert, because what lay behind is so terrible, so viscous, and pine for a promised land up ahead? What is it to arrive at that promised land to find it is not overflowing with milk and honey, well, not for you… but rather, the inhabitants of your hopeful Land of Canaan pull you apart from your family, from your parents? What is it to be an inhabitant of Canaan, and be okay with your people’s actions? What is it to be a child, torn away from your parents in a strange land, unprotected by the ones you’ve trusted to shelter you from cruelty and threat? For many children, God is thought of like a parent. What if your parent were torn away? Would your belief in God go too? Should it? It certainly may need some updating.
Some assert that we need to keep those desert migrants out… they are coming here “illegally.” That they may come from crime-riddled lands and seek legal asylum is overlooked. “We need to do something about our borders!”
I obviously don’t live in a border state, and I have (with great blessing) never been one of the families whose own members have suffered at the hands of someone living in The States illegally. My stance, inherently, comes from a different context than those people, who certainly possess perspectives I must hear and consider. Yes, we need to address immigration. Yes, we need to protect our legal citizens from “bad things.” Yes, there are steps to be taken… but at what cost? Where do we draw the line?
Our moral code could be thought of like a rope. There are many fibers within that cord, and they all weave together to form our tether. We can unravel parts of those strands, let them fray out at the end, but how far up the cord are we willing to let it travel? Sure, we can enforce border immigration laws with nuance hued solely in black and white. We can say that families who cross illegally will be sent back immediately, even though they may face certain death in their homeland. The cord unravels some.
We can say that we will put up a giant wall so that people will either turn around, or just simply die in the harsh desert. The cord unravels. There is certainly nuance to be provided for each scenario offered, and I am certainly not doing the arguments justice by representing them so simply…. but justice does not seem to be readily available in this conversation. We can hit the rock being offered up right now as many times as we want, but I fear no justice will come pouring out. Each action has a consequence. Each solution could potentially unravel our moral rope more, and fray its edges, but again, to what point are we willing to let it unravel? How messy will we let those frayed edges become? I can’t align with letting that rope shorten to the point where we are okay with children being ripped away from their parents and being put into government-contracted facilities. I’m not willing to have the rope unravel that far.
Years ago, following the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, I had the following thought- If we are taking such actions in the name of defending our “flag,” then what has our flag come to represent? People are trying to get to our country because they are fleeing their own places of narrowness, their own Mitzrayims, their own Egypts. They have journeyed in hopes of coming to this Land of Canaan, but they are being told that it is not open to them. They looked to our flag and saw a beacon of a land flowing with milk and honey, but are now being told this is not what the flag represents. If this is what our country is doing, answering desperation with familial separation, then the flag has been sending out a false message.
The Israelites called out to Moses for water, and complained, having forgotten all that God had provided for them in the past. Those who support this policy, this decimation of families and children, have forgotten all that they have been given. We need a Moses to start leading again and bringing forth water to a desert people.
Time….it runs short. We have work to do. You may not agree with my perspective, and I cannot ask you to take actions on something for which you don’t align. You may say I haven’t considered enough nuance, and there are additional perspectives that could shift my opinion more in line with yours. I acknowledge that I am not the sole bearer of truth. However, if you do find a need to call your representatives, please do. If you are looking for other solutions or ways of taking action, I direct you to the Religious Action Center’s post from today, on ReformJudaism.com on “8 Ways to Take Jewish Action Around Family Separation”:
I have loved these moments, sharing thoughts together, starting a conversation that plays out in person throughout the week. I appreciate you having read my words in the past, and giving me a forum to work through my own mental processes as I wrestle with Torah. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman once said a quote to the effect of “Torah isn’t true because it happened. Torah is true because it happens.” Here we are. Who are we?
- Shabbat Chukat - June 22, 2018
- Thank You from Cantor Adam Kahan - June 21, 2018
- Shabbat Bamidbar - May 17, 2018
- Shabbat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim - April 18, 2018
- Shabbat Ki Tisa - March 1, 2018
- Shabbat Bo - January 18, 2018
- Shabbat Va-y’chi - December 28, 2017
- Shabbat Vayeitzei - November 22, 2017
- Shabbat Noach - October 18, 2017
- Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayeilech - September 13, 2017