As am sure most of you heard, at 10:01 today, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling about marriage equality, which means that a 10:01 this morning, lesbians and gays all throughout this country were granted the freedom to be married. There are plenty of conversations around the legal side of it (that is, whether or not this is actually a good legal ruling and such), and while I find that deeply interesting, it isn't for this moment. Right now, at this moment, I want to express my absolute joy at being alive to see this. I want to express my incredible gratitude to finally be living in a society where any couple who wishes can get married, regardless of what genders they happen to be. And, I'm especially proud to be standing before you tonight, speaking as a Reform Rabbi.
There are times when I think it's important to identify as Jewish, without any adjectives or modifiers. But, there are also times when I'm particularly aware, and proud, of being a Reform Jew, or a Liberal (that is, non-Orthodox) Jew. Because, at our core, what we are is not a group which believes in less Judaism, or in easier Judaism. What we are, at our core, is a group which believes that the best religion is one which draws from the best of Jewish tradition, as well as the best of the Modern world around us. Yes, that can be tricky. Judaism and the outside world are often in tension, and often in direct conflict, and it's not always so easy to harmonize the two. The middle path isn't always clear. And, this attempt to draw from the best of both worlds can sometimes leave us open to accusations of following fashion, or of not having principles, even if those accusations are almost always specious.
In reality, the truth is that our willingness to change, our willingness to draw from the outside world and culture, has brought so much good into the world, and into Judaism in particular. Without this willingness to change and grow, the equality of women within Judaism wouldn't even be a dream, and women serving as rabbis and cantors wouldn't even be thinkable. The newer forms of worship which speak to so many of us more than some of the older forms — musical instruments, different modes of music, to name just two — wouldn't be part of our religious world. And, the centrality of Social Justice which, it's easy to forget, hasn't always been important in Judaism, and sadly, still isn't in some quarters, is a direct result of the early Reformers' intersection of Judaism and the Modern world. Yes, Reform Judaism's willingness to take risks and to evolve is something of which I'm deeply proud, as should we all be.
And, today, Reform Jews, followed closely by our other Liberal brethren, have the opportunity to see a milestone in a fight in which we have been engaged, passionately, for decades, Reform Judaism was the first major religious movement to support LGBTQ rights, and it remains one of the most passionate voices for them. We believe as a movement, and I believe as an individual, as a Jew, and as a rabbi, that marriage must be open to gays and lesbians precisely because it is such an important institution. Precisely because, not only does it hold a sacred place in our civil society, but because it remains such an important way to bring sanctity into our own lives. And, because acknowledging these marriages (which, let's admit, have actually existed de facto for decades) only increases the dignity of our fellow human beings, each of us created betzelem elohim. And so, I'm so happy to be able to celebrate this moment, and to celebrate it with you.
But, what I was going to talk about up until 10:01 this morning, was Charleston. What I was going to talk about was the unthinkable, irredeemably evil act committed by one evil individual, may his memory be wiped out, just 10 days ago. I wanted to stand up here and tell all of us that is our obligation to not stand idly by during this time. That was incumbent upon us to reach out to someone, anyone, and offer our support and our solidarity. And, I also wanted to take a moment, even on Shabbat which is meant to be joyous and serene, to remind us of how broken our world truly still is. When we see racism, when we see terrorism, when we see inequality, when we see hunger and pain, we see a world in pieces. I was going to give a D’var Torah about Tikkun Olam — fixing the world. Fixing the world — not "improving," but "fixing." That's an important distinction. Because, Tikkun Olam means seeing the world as it is, and knowing, instinctively and deeply, that this is not what is meant to be.
When we see people being treated differently, in overt and subtle ways, it's not just not ideal. It's fundamentally wrong. It's not as God intended.
I don't generally pretend to know God's mind, and I'm cautious in my wording here. But, when we come across the pieces of a broken lamp on the ground, we know, we know that that's not how was meant to be. Someone built that lamp of the intent of a being whole, and of it giving light. Some One built this world in which we live with the intent of it being whole, and of it giving light. And, that's not the world we see. When we see that brokenness, we have to have the reflexive urge, we might even say the sense of commandedness, to fix it. Until we see that world, until everyone in this world is treated justly, fairly, compassionately, humanely, humanly, we can't be satisfied.
It's such a wonderful, terrible, happy, miserable time to be alive. There is so much holiness, and, at times, the arc of the moral universe seems to be bending faster than ever towards justice. There is so much darkness, and so much pain, and at times, it seems as if we haven’t moved any closer to justice, or to holiness. Tonight, I celebrate one of the greatest moral milestones of my lifetime, even as I remember one of the greatest acts of evil and of darkness I have ever seen.
In the words of my good friend and colleague, Rabbi David Widzer:
The human heart has two sides: one takes in blood depleted of oxygen, the other pumps out oxygen-rich blood.
Our hearts today are filled in part with the oxygen of equality and dignity. Today marriage is marriage and love is love for all Americans.
Our hearts today are filled in part with the airless ache of acts of hatred, lives laid to rest in Charleston, lives cut short by terror overseas.
May our hearts be large enough to hold them both, the pain caused by hatred and the joyfulness of justice. Ultimately, it is oxygen that sustains the human body. Ultimately, may it be love and justice that surge through our souls and sustain us all.
This is a version of the sermon given by Rabbi Rosenberg on June 26, 2015