Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yom Kippur 5773: HaMakom


When Batya and I were first married, we drove across country, from California  (where we had been living for our rabbinic studies) back home to the East Coast.  We stopped on the way for a visit to the Grand Canyon.  There was a ticketing area that exited to a wooded pathway that led to the rim of the canyon.  As we started out on the path, cranky after hours in the car, we got into one of those typical first-year-of-marriage little spats; some disagreement over a petty issue--the kind of disagreements that couples who have been married a few years don’t have anymore.  She wanted to go camping and I wanted to stay in a hotel (I have long since learned, when my wife wants to go camping--we go camping!)  The argument didn’t end quickly.  It got more and more frustrating, and we decided to stop on the pathway and stand off to the side to see if we could just finish the discussion before continuing, so as not to spoil the whole visit.  Well, the argument just didn’t end as quickly as we wanted.  It was taking way too long, so we decided just to stop the argument and proceed to the rim even though we were still cranky and annoyed at each other.  The path wound around, and led to a clearing in the woods.  We passed through that clearing and beheld one of the most astonishing things we had ever seen--this canyon, like a grand Cathedral to God on a planetary scale.  Its size and scope and wonder was beyond what I had ever imagined.  It literally took our breath away.  In an instant, not only that spat fell away, but all the other nonsense of life fell away.  There was just us before the miracle of life.  Before we even realized it, we were holding hands again.  We had no words.  No emotions other than wonder.  We looked at each other, and suddenly there were no blocks to the love we felt for each other.  I’ll always appreciate the Grand Canyon for ending a newlywed spat! (and I still owe Batya a camping trip to the Grand Canyon!) But seriously, what a place!  
In Hebrew, the word for ‘place’ is Makom.  It’s interesting to note that this word, Makom, is also a name of God--HaMakom, The Place.  It’s a strange name of God, except when you go to a place like the Grand Canyon.  But I’ll tell you something:  when it was all said and done, what made the Grand Canyon so God-like wasn’t its physical immensity, it was the fact that there, in that place, Batya and I returned to who we really are for each other.
And so today, I am going to unpack this amazing Divine name, HaMakom.  And I’m going to suggest something a little shocking:  we create HaMakom.  Yes:  we create God’s Presence (!), whenever we remember that the most vast and awesome thing there is, wherever we are, is each other.
In the book of Exodus, God tells the Israelites to build a sanctuary: “V’Asu li Mikdash, v’shachanti betocham,”  “Build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” God wants the Israelites to create this special place to house God’s Presence in the midst of the Israelite encampments.  This Mikdash, this sanctuary, would become the model of the Temple that would eventually stand in Jerusalem.  It’s a funny thing to ponder:  why would God, who is everywhere, need a special sanctuary?  How can an infinite God be contained in any one place?  None other than our own Rabbi Reuven Hammer wrote about this, and pointed out that the Hebrew does not say ‘Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell in it;’ rather, it says, “Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell--betocham--literally, in them,” or even more literally, “within them” (meaning, the Israelites).   Furthermore, the Hebrew word ‘v’shachanti’ which means ‘dwell,’ is also the root for the word “Shechinah,” which is another name for God--it actually is the feminine aspect of Divinity--literally, it refers to the in-dwelling Presence of God in the world, and within us; Shechinah is the Divine energy that gives us life, and that binds us together as interconnected lives in this world.  
We  can put all these ideas together in the Grand Canyon story:  What it did for Batya and me was to turn us back to each other.  It enabled us to look into each other’s eyes and see the Shekhina, the spark of God that lived betocheinu, within us, and between us. The greatest power of that Makom, that place, wasn’t really the place so much as how it made us Present for each other, and the word Presence is connected to the idea of Makom, of Presence, God’s Presence.
And this is what God meant: build a sanctuary, so that you can use it to find My Divine Presence within you, within each other.  The place, the space doesn’t matter as much as the Presence, the  moments, the times we spend truly together.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously taught about this unique quality of Judaism: we’re not a people who specializes in grand edifices and ornate architecture; rather, we live in the “architecture of time.”  In his book, The Sabbath, Heshel writes, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space...The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is [Yom Kippur,] a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn...”  Another great Jewish thinker, Albert Einstein, developed similar, and very Jewish notions of time when he formulated his theory of general relativity.  He came to see that space itself is inconceivable without the medium of time; that one is not possible without the other:  it is more correct to talk about ‘spacetime’ rather than these features as separate entities. Once Einstein was asked to put his theory of general relativity into layman’s terms:
“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity.
In other words, time itself is entirely relational.  Where you are is dependant upon when you are, and when you are is dependant upon who or what you’re with.  To put it yet another way, this moment is the whole universe.  And the whole import and grandeur of the cosmos is present right here in every moment that we share  together. That’s what HaMakom really means!   Grand Canyons, synagogues, our homes-- they’re really just metaphors, reminders of the infinite vastness of this moment that we’re together.  
These ideas are what Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, two more great Jewish thinkers meant.  And they took these ideas even further.  Buber, in his famous book, I and Thou, describes the uncanny experience that happens when I am fully present for you (Thou).  In such moments, when we’re really noticing the miraculousness, the preciousness of each other--in that very meeting, in that encounter, there is the Shechinah, the Presence of God, and the infinity of time.  Levinas, similarly, described what he called the  ‘Face to Face’ encounter:  when I truly behold your face, when I really open to what your presence means to me in the moment, your presence matters more to me than myself, you are my everything; all time, all space collapses into who you are for me in this moment, and all that matters is how I can be there for you, and do what is right by you.  The beginning of all ethics, all morality, all of God’s Mitzvot--they all begin in this moment, in this place, with your Face right here in front of me.  As Jacob said to Esau after all their years of fighting finally ended:  “Ki al ken raiti panecha, kir’ot pnei Elohim” “To see your Face is to the see the Face of God.” (Genesis 33:10).  And, as the ancient rabbis taught,  whenever two Jews face each other, ‘Shechinah shruyah beineihem,’ the Presence of God hovers over them; or even more literally--the presence of God is HaMakom, what is happening in the spacetime between them.
All of these great 20th century Jewish thinkers seem to distill the core message of the Torah:  The only way that time is really measured is through our relationships, and the only place to be is with each other. Our time in this life is not what’s ticking on your watch; it’s not measured in how many emails you have to return by tomorrow; it’s not measured by our accomplishments or accolades.  The only time that matters is the moments we bring our full awareness to life, to the face, the eyes of the Other:  to our beloveds, our colleagues, our children.  And even to strangers.  This is the point of Judaism.  It’s not about buildings or programs or books or legal rulings or rituals or services.  These things are just things.  They are all tools to bring us face to face with each other; because it is only by truly beholding your face, that I can find the light of God’s presence.
For example, Tzedakah is not just an abstract obligation to give money to worthy causes.  Tzedakah is all about HaMakom--how deeply you reach across the divide that separates you from the Other in this moment, in this Place, to heal and repair and nurture our relationship, and our world.   Of course, we should keep writing checks to worthy causes.  But always remember that all check-writing, and all money is--like the Grand Canyon--just a metaphor, a ritual that extends the way we are called to live our lives with and for each other, moment by moment, in every place we go.  Batya has a beautiful practice of Tzedakah that she does as often as she can.  Whenever she’s walking down the street and someone asks for money for something to eat, she looks them in the eye and smiles and asks, “What would you like to eat right now?”  And they tell her.  And then she finds the nearest cafe or Starbucks or supermarket and goes and buys it for them.  Her intention is to empower these people, to allow them the dignity to choose to eat what they want.  I witnessed her do this on a cold street last winter.  The man asked for a sandwich.  Without skipping a beat, she went to the nearest cafe and ordered him warm panini sandwich and cup of hot coffee.  The look on that man’s face when she put that warm meal into his cold hands--the look of such vast, infinite gratitude--made me realize that I was at the Grand Canyon, in the Presence of God, right there on that cold city street.
HaMakom is also what happens at a Shabbat dinner table.  Yes, we have beautiful traditions like candle-lighting, Kiddush, and Motzi over the challah.  But always remember that candles and wine and challah are not the point of Shabbat dinner.  Those things are just vessels, tools for us to use to enter into the Grand Canyon of time and timelessness otherwise known as Shabbat.  And what is Shabbat?  Shabbat is the moment we see the light of those candles reflected in the eyes of those we care about.  Shabbat is the sharing of the sweetness and satisfaction not of wine and bread--but of this precious time and place of being with these miracles, these faces, these human beings who are here with us, and here for us, right here and right now.
Hamakom is also what happens at a shiva house.  We traditionally say "HaMakom yenachem etchem..." May God's Presence, experienced here through our caring presence, bring you comfort and healing.
And finally, what is a syangogue?  It’s not a building.  In Hebrew, it’s called a Beit Knesset--literally a House, or a Place that houses our Coming Together.  The point is not the building, or what’s in it.  The point is us, here and now.  Nothing more.  In a matter of days now, we will begin a major renovation of this building.  It’s going to be gorgeous and so exciting.  But don’t be fooled.  It’s not a building for the sake of a building; just as Judaism is not a religion for the sake of its own laws and ideas:  Judaism exists for Jews.  The beauty of this building is only here to function as a Makom, a Place that expresses time--Jewish time, times of relationship, of encountering each other truly, fully, with all our hearts.  The Charles E. Smith Sanctuary will remind us of the grandeur of our love and connection to each other and to the miracle of Life.  The Gewirz Beit Am will remind us of the intimate connections to one another, and to a spirit of Shechinah, of a love that binds community together; the Beit Midrash will bring us literally face to face, in Havruta--as two human beings facing each other, responding to our shared quest for meaning and insight.  And the name of our innovative new learning program in that Beit Midrash?  What else, MakomDC!
Life really is so precarious and precious, and none of us know how much time we have left.  But now is a moment to recall that this  synagogue, that all of Judaism, is here to help us to find HaMakom:  to treasure this Place and time that we have.  When we understand that we always have HaMakom, we no longer  need to grasp desperately to life’s fleeting moments of  pleasure; we no longer desperately try  to “save” time so that we’ll be able to do what matters later.  Rather, we cherish HaMakom simply by noticing that the living beings in our lives, right here, right now--they are our whole world, our whole lives.  In their eyes, in their touch, in their smile, and even in their pain, there is all the time in the world, and everything that ever mattered since the beginning of time and space itself.
 In this New Year, may we embrace the time that we have--not as some abstraction that is measured by a clock; but as the time that lives eternally in this Makom, in this Spacetime that is here/now--wherever this space happens to be in our lives.  May this be a year of noticing the miracle of Life and its blessing, always here before us in this moment; and in the face of our beloveds, may we truly find the Face of God.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosh HaShanah 5773: Are We the Victims?

Last month, an angry group of Jewish teenagers, some as young as 13 years old, brutally attacked and nearly killed a 17 year-old Arab boy right in the middle of Jerusalem.  The Jewish kids were shouting “Death to Arabs.”  While the Arab boy was in critical condition in the hospital, one 15-year-old Jewish suspect said, “For my part, he can die.  He’s an Arab.”  Israel’s vice prime-minister, Bogie Ya’alon, courageously spoke out in response to this attack, deservedly labelling it an act of “terrorism.” These developments are a tragedy.  They are tragic in a way that is deeper than political, ethnic, and ideological divisions.
   We all may remember the reports and images a few months back of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men spitting at women and little girls because of their dress, or because they were walking on sidewalks that they had forbidden to women.  Last June, the Sephardi Chief rabbi of Israel declared that Reform and Conservative rabbis--that I--am no better than a terrorist because I am seeking to destroy the Jewish people.  These developments, as well, are tragedies of an order that transcends mere differences of religious opinion and practice.  All of these are tragedies of the human spirit, and they’re happening to our people in our Jewish homeland.  And all of these are happening in a wider middle east beset by intense anti-Israeli and anti-American violence and hatred.
Today, I present these tragic developments not to further our despair, or to fuel our own angers and hatreds.  Quite the opposite.  Today, I want to offer a remedy, a way out of this spiral into hatred and violence in Israel.  I will show how Israelis really can overcome these tragic developments and maintain their moral high ground.  Finally, I will show us today that we here in the States really can stay proud and inspired by everything that Israel is.  It just takes some honest acknowledgment--for all Jews everywhere--of some deep-seated  beliefs that we all share, beliefs that hinder pride and hope; beliefs that can contribute to these tragedies.
When we reflect on the modern State of Israel in the world, we identify one idea that always seems to hover, in many forms, around any and everything about the Jewish State.  The concept can be summed up in one word:  ‘victim.’  
The story of Israel in the world has long been one about victims and victimizers, of oppression, and then hope rising out of that oppression.  We Jews were victimized for centuries, most recently in the Holocaust and by Arab aggression.  But we’re not alone in our sense of victimhood.  For the Arabs, and for their supporters, especially in Europe, it is the Jews and the Israelis who are the aggressors and the victimizers.  And within the Jewish State, the religious-secular divide falls along victimization faultlines.  The religious often feel threatened and besieged by the secular heresy, and the secular Israelis feel victimized by Jewish religious oppression.
At least in our setting here in Washington, I can safely say that we here, no matter our political persuasion, all can agree on a few matters:  we agree that Israel is unfairly portrayed  and cast in world opinion; we agree that, despite fringe outbursts like those teenagers, there is no equivalence between our sentiments and the generally-accepted anti-Jewish sentiments rooted in the elite power-structure of Arab-Muslim societies...and that the response to anti-Jewish incitement is not more violence, but education and engagement -- and that difference is profound;  we agree that antisemitism is still at play in the world against us and against Israel; ; we all want peace that brings real security and a real end to the conflict with the Palestinians and, until that is achieved and even when that is achieved, we all want a strong Israel capable of protecting itself against the real threats it faces because – most importantly – we don’t want to be the victim of anyone or anything ever again.
But now that we know what we generally agree on, why can’t we do more to fix it?  Today, we’re not going to point any fingers of blame on anyone or on any side.  And we’re not going to guilt ourselves either for all the ills of Israel.  We’re just going to become more aware of how we all, as human beings, share deep and often unquestioned beliefs about victimization.  
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a Jewish woman who lives in New York with a very loose affiliation with Judaism.  She told me she was concerned that her son, who was going to a very elite prep school in Manhattan, wasn’t getting enough of a Jewish identity.  So what did she decide to do to fix the problem?  She took him to Washington, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Now, the Holocaust Museum is an extraordinary resource in the world.  I believe that its existence and its work are critical  not only for the Jewish people, but for the whole world.  That being said, think about it for a minute:  a Jewish woman who wanted to give her son his first real taste of Jewish uniqueness, what it means to be a Jew in the world, and her impulse was to begin the story with the Holocaust.  Consider for a moment what her choice reveals about her own sense of what it means to be Jewish in the world.  It begins with the nightmare of genocide, of the ultimate victimization.  I think that we’re all, consciously or not, very much like her.  All of us Jews here, in Israel, around the world, have a tragic conflation of elements in our minds:  we have automatically confused past victimization with who we are--as Jews, even as individuals!  No one will deny for a moment that we have been victimized repeatedly for many centuries.  But history is not identity.  History most certainly can shape our identity, but it doesn’t have to define it.
The Talmud# tells us a story of the great Rabbi Akiva, who was travelling with his rabbinic colleagues 2,000 years ago on Mount Scopus.  They came to the top and looked upon the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Romans.  All the rabbis wept, except for Rabbi Akiva, who laughed.  How could you be laughing, they asked him.  How could you be crying, he responded!  Because the Romans are victorious and our nation and our Temple have been destroyed, they said.  Well, that is exactly why I’m laughing, Akiva said.  He then explained:  there is an ancient prophecy that that Jewish people will yet flourish and grow old in Jerusalem even after the Temple is destroyed.  Now that it’s destroyed, I know that this prophecy will come true!  And the rabbis responded, ‘You have consoled us, Akiva.  You have consoled us.’
Now this story is not just a poignant story about destruction and Akiva grasping at straws for hope.  Rabbi Akiva here embodies the deepest spirit of the Jewish people, and who we are in the world, despite the reality of destructions and persecutions and genocides:  we are a people that survives.  This is the refrain over and over in our  Biblical prophecies:  no matter what nightmares we may experience, we will see the light of day again.  And these aren’t just religious ideas of abstract belief.  These are also facts.  We’re one of the oldest surviving peoples in the world.  We have been persecuted non-stop, and yet no one can destroy us.  That’s the message of Judaism.  That’s the message of history too.  The Akiva story is really all about how you can choose to look at history.  You can let destruction define you, or you can find resolve and strength in our traditions, in our past survival, and in what we stand for as a people.  In other words, in every moment, we can choose to see ourselves as victims or not.  And as the generations and centuries go on, we have to keep choosing anew.  
The Akiva story shows us very clearly that it was always all too easy to conflate past experience with our identity.  But Akiva laughs and shows us not to fall for that.  We have a role to play in the endgame of the human race, and if we get a little clarity about that, we can see that we’re not going anywhere.  Akiva’s wisdom began centuries earlier, in the very words of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy: “I call heaven and earth to witness before you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse,” “Uvacharta Bachayim,” “therefore choose life that you may live, you and your descendants.”#
Jews really were victims in the past.  There are countless proofs to this truth.  But if we keep looking, we were also countless survivors.  The message I bring today isn’t just a half-empty or half-full message.  My point is that each of us, right now, can find all the proofs we want on either side of the victim issue, to back up our choice of being victims or not.  The point of being Jewish in the world is that we are the ones who “bocher bachayim” we choose the path of life, of light, of hope.  That’s our job, our purpose.  That’s what being a holy nation is all about.  
I choose to found my Jewish identity on the rich ground of a three-thousand year old tradition, one of justice and kindness.  It’s a tradition that really is a light to the world.  It’s the message that life has meaning and that the possibility of joy never vanishes, that darkness and death never triumph over the human spirit.  That’s what Jewish identity means to me.  I invite us all to choose that identity on this New Year.

I also cherish the memory of every victim of the Shoah, and of all the many persecutions and terrorist attacks that we have endured through the centuries.  I choose to learn the lessons of history, to fight hatred and antisemitism wherever it arises, and to ensure a safe future for my people here and in Israel.  But past victimhood is not who I am.  If I am anything as a Jew, I am the response to that victimhood.  I am the affirmation of life’s potential for renewal.  If I am anything, I am the laughter of Akiva, which is also the name of our ancestor Isaac--Yitzhak, (literally, laughter) the laughter of life miraculously arising when all hope is seemingly lost.  I invite us all to be that laughter as well.
Finally, I invite us all to be the ones to imagine the story of an Israel that is free of victim identities.  What if we stopped projecting our nightmares about potential destruction onto Israel and the world around us?  Now, we all recognize and appreciate the seriousness and sobriety of debates happening right now  inside Israel about attacking Iran.  We respect and support that the elected government of Israel bears immense responsibility – indeed, the ultimate responsibility – to protect its people for any and all nightmarish possibilities. At the same time, it really is possible for us, as individuals to walk the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv today with no feeling of oppression or fear of victimization -- even as terrorists and hostile neighbors still reside on all sides.  It really is possible for us to be free of gnawing angers and resentments and fears in the backs of our minds about Israel.  It really is possible--indeed, it is essential-- to hold nothing but a feeling of gratitude and celebration for Israel’s strength and bright destiny, even in the most fraught and tense of times.  If you’re like me, you might, at first, react to these ideas and call them foolishness.  That’s okay.  Keep envisioning it; try to move right past our assumption that this is a dangerous pipedream.  Now, we can ask ourselves this question:  Can we absolutely know that we will be destroyed if we willingly let go of our fears of being victims?  I know what you may be thinking:  Yes!  Of course we would be destroyed:  it’s lovely to decide to relax and be peaceful; but if our enemies don’t make that decision, that’s just suicide.  I hear that fear, and I choose to believe that the opposite will happen.  Imagine with me who we would be, responding to terrorism and threats from hostile enemies with no fear and no anxiety, with no feeling of impending victimization or doom.  
What would that be like?  I’ll tell you what it would be like:  we would respond with clarity, with strength, with balance, with a sense of urgency and care, with all our judgment unclouded by hatred or fear, ready to effect real justice, undaunted in our search for peace.  We would be free of a victim identity, and we would be truly fulfilling the dreams of all the founders and pioneers of the Jewish State.  The very essence of Zionism itself arose as a reaction to centuries of victimization of our people around the world.  The core of our Zionist dream--   which is the sacred purpose of Judaism as well--is that we will live in our Jewish homeland once and for all, never living as victims to anyone.  The real meaning of being an Israeli, and a Jew, is that we are never victims.  Not ever.
One thing I feel sure of:  those Israeli teenagers who attacked that Palestinian boy did so because they felt themselves to be the victims of the Palestinians.
A friend once said something that really stuck with me. She said ‘victims can be the most dangerous people.’  The more I think about it, the more that’s true:  so much bloodshed in history has been caused by those who believed that they were the victims of those whom they killed.  
The root of the problem lies in conflating victimhood with identity.  But there is another way.  Uvacharta bachayim:  it’s about choosing to be free.  It’s about choosing to see all the ways that we are so strong, so blessed, and so purposeful.  We are the people who bear a vision of the world as a better, more just place; a world of holiness and kindness.  We’re part of the solution to all the problems of this world.  That’s our destiny, and we’re not going anywhere.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/celebrating-the-jewish-high-holy-days-where-is-the-pleasure-this-season/2012/09/13/49a29f5a-fd2f-11e1-a31e-804fccb658f9_story.html

Kosher Deceit?


At what point did deceit become kosher in our society? It's true that American political campaigns have a long and ignoble history of finger-pointing and aiming low and twisting the facts. But there's something new afoot. The degree of deceit that is acceptable to us is now vastly greater. Ads and campaign speeches and interviews are full of bold-faced lies. What's new is that in the name of winning and of power, any degree of manipulation of truth is now acceptable.
News media organizations that specialize in spinning facts to reflect a political agenda are now mainstream. On the Internet, we can build ourselves up by finding arguments in favor of any idea, despite the validity of the facts. Candidates have figured out that facts matter less than the need to appeal to people's baser fears and angers in order to get votes.
We're living in a time that goes overboard with relativism. We have developed a postmodern mind-set after the violent upheavals of the 20th century, one that rightly mistrusts absolutist ideas and values. At its best, our current wisdom understands that our experience of truth itself is highly subjective. We understand the dangers of those who claim to know the truth, and then demonize all who disagree with them.
Our modern-day wisdom can just as easily lead us into a trap. A healthy skepticism of claims to the truth can slip into moral relativism and apathy. In my teaching, I regularly encounter well-meaning and brilliant learners who express surprise that not all perspectives are equal on all issues. I have encountered many others who bristle at the notion that Judaism values hierarchies of values and ethics. When all opinions are equal and all moral playing fields are level, why should anyone speak out against politicians ignoring the value of truth?
In the Jerusalem Talmud, a midrash teaches that when God gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, God simultaneously gave Moses 49 ways to declare something pure and 49 ways to declare that same thing impure. This teaching seems to suggest that truth itself really is malleable, that all playing fields really are level. In fact, it suggests the opposite. While it's always true that we can find just as many reasons to sanctify as to demonize any issue or people, the Torah itself is meant to be the medium by which we find our experience of the truth. Moses may have received all possible truths at Sinai, but in each generation, we must study and investigate and treat all issues with the respect of those who found their truth and came before us. It may be that today we declare something "pure" which in previous generations was deemed "impure," but we make this decision with humility and the greatest of care. Inherent in this teaching is the notion that we must be on guard against apathy and moral relativism because truth can be so very subjective.
Each day, when I daven, I take very seriously the way we end the three paragraphs of the Sh'ma. We link phrases together and say "Hashem Eloheichem emet." The Lord your God is truth. The word "emet," "truth" appears over and over after that: it is emet that God is the God of our ancestors, it is emet that God took us out of Egypt, etc. When we bless the Torah for an aliyah, we say "Asher natan lanu Torat emet," we bless God who has given us the "Torah of Truth." In the Babylonian Talmud, we find the famous statement, "Truth is the seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He," and in Rashi's commentary, he explains that the word emet is composed of the Hebrew letters alef, mem, tav - the very first, the middle, and very last letter of the Hebrew alef-bet. And, as Louis Jacobs explains, wherever there is truth, God is present.
Wherever there is deceit, God is absent.
We have come a long way in our current society from these insights. Our Jewish heritage wants us to understand the sacredness of truth itself. In seeing the truth as nothing short of the divine presence, we have become a people of learners, who actively seek understanding of all aspects of our world. Our American society today has become defined not by truth-seeking, but by cynicism. We have warped the wisdom of truth-as-subjective experience and turned it into a weapon against unsuspecting voters. As Jews, we must be the champions for the value of truth in all things - in our political discourse, in our communication, in our policy-making.
When it's all said and done, the truth will always win. But we, as Jews, can play a critical role in ensuring that the truth for this country is one that reflects justice and all that is good and holy in our humanity.