The voice of love wins over all
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
August 18, 2017 // 27 Av 5777
This week marks yet another turning point in contemporary American history,
a turning backward to a U.S. past, and to a European past,
to an ancient relic that never actually stayed ancient,
the voice of a past that lives on in 2017, as ever.
With the Charlottesville rally last weekend
and upcoming rallies this weekend,
white supremacy groups feel emboldened by the political climate
to openly gather together on the streets,
giving voice to painful words of hate directed at Jews,
words so familiar, sown in the soil of a far off land in German,
now translated into English on this soil.
And they give voice to words aimed at People of Colour,
words with the echoes of slavery and otherness,
at those with alternate political and economic views,
at the LGBTQ community,
at the core truth of First Nations/Native Americans,
who were here on this soil before all of us immigrants landed;
they give voice to all those who stand for anything but hate.
Let me share a true story from this week,
a story that in a small, but potent way brings this voice to Stowe.
A Jewish 8-year-old girl in Stowe this week was approached
by another 8-year-old. The unknowing child said to the Jewish girl:
“I heard that Jews are bad.”
She actually said in 2017 Stowe: “I heard that Jews are bad”!?
Words out of an 8-year-old’s mouth here in our midst.
That it came from her mouth,
makes clear again that this kind of knowing of another is learned,
a lesson taught through time, of hatred, of the unknown,
of what is, at least on the surface, different than the self.
All of this marks another turning point in history.
Yet, more importantly,
this moment also marks a turning point for love and human dignity.
Thousands of people, in communities around the nation,
including ours in Greater Stowe,
are also gathering, towards another direction altogether,
turning towards that of the voice of love;
a voice of anger and outrage, of righteousness and indignation,
but also the sound of respect and basic decency and human rights for all;
not a voice where all say the same thing
or believe the same exact iterations of love,
but the mosaic that is the language of love,
each in our own unique voices,
yet somehow together as one voice.
What a fitting day, than, I believe,
to gather for our annual Summer Celebrations Shabbat!?
What better time to focus on love and connection and community-building
than on this very day?
And so we gather to celebrate and come together
to give voice to what is good and precious to all of us,
to give voice to our love of family and community and dignity for all.
We gather in love to show the impact that community makes,
we gather to show our strength,
we gather to share our love together.
Our Torah portion this week of Re’eh
has a chapter devoted to the holidays.
The chapter deals with the question of how we are meant to celebrate,
how we are meant to gather together for a simcha.
Our parashah answers the questions:
Why is simcha so important? And with whom should we celebrate?
In this way, we are told by our own ancient Torah,
through its words of love and human decency, why we are here tonight.
A book from so long ago, yet somehow
the past heard what today and tomorrow needed to know.
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָ֞ לִפְנֵ֣י | יְהוָֹ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ
וְשָׂמַחְתָ֞ from the word simcha —
“And you shall be joyous — you shall have simcha —
before Hashem Your G-d.”
On this day, we turn our hearts to what is good.
אַתָ֨ה וּבִנְךָ֣ וּבִתֶ֘ךָ֘ וְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וַאֲמָתֶ֒ךָ֒
Who are we to celebrate with? With whom shall we grow our joy?
The Torah says: “(You shall celebrate), you, and your son, and your daughter,
and your male-worker, and your female-worker;”
which includes all of the people in your household and under your roof.
וְהַלֵּוִי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ
Who else is on the guest list?
“The Levite that is in your gates,”
They are invited because the Levi’im
did not have a house of their own to celebrate.
They gave up that gift of land in order to serve G-d in the Temple.
וְהַגֵּ֛ר וְהַיָּת֥וֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבֶּ֑ךָ
But not only those of your household and the Levites;
but “the stranger, the orphan, and the widow that are in your midst”
should also celebrate.
All those people who have nothing, who are not privileged like you and me,
not privileged enough to have a home,
they too must celebrate with us.
Here our Torah speaks of those same words
of the Wailin’ Jenny’s song “One Voice.”
We celebrate with one voice, all together,
“One people, one voice
A song for every one of us,” no exceptions.
בַּמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ יְהוָֹ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָׁם:
And so we gather “in that place that Hashem Your G-d” will be present.
In a sense, G-d too is on the guest list,
for wherever we gather in love, in celebration, G-d will be there.
יב וְזָ֣כַרְתָ֔ כִּי־עֶ֥בֶד הָיִ֖יתָ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְשָׁמַרְתָ֣ וְעָשִׂ֔יתָ אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים הָאֵלֶּה:
Now we come to the heart of the celebration. It’s essence.
Why do we gather to celebrate?
What brings people together? Towards what purpose?
Our Torah says: “For remember that you were a slave in Egypt;
you shall guard and do these statues,” to celebrate together as one,
because you were once slaves.
As we celebrate simchas tonight,
we also know we cannot fully celebrate unless all peoples,
both of privilege and people without,
are able to fully celebrate.
We come together and celebrate because we know what it is like
to be downtrodden and to be considered under-class,
to not be given the opportunity to truly celebrate life.
Tonight, we celebrate that of the love between two people in marriage,
and that of the honour of being able to love who we want;
we celebrate that of B’nei Mitzvah celebrated,
and the building of beautiful family and community through that simcha;
that of a child or grandchild graduating high school or college,
and the rights and access to education for all.
We celebrate the voice
of what is good and decent in our lives and in the world.
Any simcha celebrated in this way, where all are included,
and there is no end to the celebration,
for there we have built a world of joy.
For when we celebrate like this,
we have worked tirelessly to erase all hatred from our midst.
We’ve had this Summer Celebrations on the calendar for months now,
and yet, a new resonance arises after this week.
On this Shabbat, as in all times, love is the greatest revolutionary act.
We come together in love, as one voice.