Over the last couple of months, I have become far more vocal in my support of political activism. Most of the people I've heard from have been grateful for the kind of information my wife and I are sharing via the email list formerly used for Torah teachings and event announcements.
But we've also been asked: What does this have to do with your spiritual teachings? We appreciate the question since it gives us the opportunity to speak about the relationship of spiritual practice to compassionate action in the world.
Jewish prophetic tradition clearly teaches that ritual without ethical action in the world is meaningless.
There was never a time when social activism was not a part of my life. As a rabbinical student and then a young rabbi, I was involved in organizations and marches promoting civil rights and protesting the war in Vietnam. I have always supported racial and gender equality, lifestyle equality, and economic and environmental justice. But nothing in my past life matched the need for the kind of organizing that is now required.
I know that there are many who believe that the protests taking place now simply reflect actions by "bad losers," folks who are upset that their candidate lost the election for president. From my perspective, I really don't care who you voted for. The issues are bigger than that.
Once governmental agencies are slapped with "gag orders," and commanded to cease communicating with the public, once the ruling party discounts scientific research and scientific fact, and once the ruling party places corporate leaders in positions of power, it becomes pretty obvious that our democracy itself is under siege. There are those in power who seem dedicated to threatening to clamp down on dissent. There are those who condemn criticism, and offer instead new concepts, like, "alternative facts."
In this climate, a far more active resistance is demanded. Frankly, I believe this resistance is the duty of Americans no matter their party affiliation or presidential preference. We are all witnessing the shredding of regulations meant to protect our environment. We can all see that corporate and "alt-right" leaders have replaced those with a fuller awareness of a democratic form of government.
The prophet Micah proclaimed so long ago:
It has been told you, humankind, what the Eternal One requires of you: Only to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk with integrity with your God. (6:8)
In a democracy, justice means honoring the full checks and balances of our form of government. Justice means supporting everyone, especially the weakest among us. Loving kindness means acting with compassion. "How can we make things better here?" is the legitimate question for each and every person, including our elected officials. And it means walking with integrity -- being honest and open-hearted in our dealings with one another.
To stand silent when witnessing the foundations of American democracy being dismantled before our eyes is neither spiritual nor moral, and I am among those who cannot remain silent. In such a time, I am called to speak out more loudly, to organize more persistently, and to strive for domestic as well as world peace.