I wrote just a little bit last night about the B.R.E.A.D. action assembly I attended the other day at Congregation Tifereth Israel. Mainly, I shared my overall impressions--the size of the crowd, and the "packed like sardines" aspect of the experience. If you aren't familiar with the B.R.E.A.D. organization or the purpose of our assembly on Monday night, you can read about it here. In this entry I'd like to share with you the opening reflections of Rabbi Howard Apothaker of Temple Beth Shalom, which shed some light on why the "Nehemiah Assembly" was a fitting name for that action meeting. I suppose you may be skeptical about there being any connection between this particular Hebrew scripture and the times we live in. What experience do people *today* have with such sentiments as... We must pawn our fields and our vineyards and our homes to get grain to stave off hunger or We have to borrow money against our fields and vineyards... ?
There was a great cry by the common folk and their wives against their brother Judeans. Some said our sons and daughter are numerous, you must get grain so that we may live. Others said, "We must pawn our fields and our vineyards and our homes to get grain to stave off hunger." And yet others said, "We have to borrow money against our fields and vineyards to pay the king's tax. Now we are subjecting our sons and our daughters to slavery and we are powerless while our fields and vineyards belong to others.
It angered me very much, said Nehemiah, to hear their outcry--that same outcry that the slaves made in Egypt. After pondering the matter carefully, I argued, says Nehemiah, with the nobles and the prefects, saying, "Are you pressing claims on loans against your bretheren?" And I asked a large crowd against them and said to them, we have done our best to buy back our Judean bretheren who remain slaves to the nation, but you continue to enslave your bretheren that we must yet restore them. And they were silent.
So I, Nehemiah, continued...What you are doing is NOT GOOD! You are to ACT, and it ought to be in a G-d-fearing way. Thus the words of Nehemiah.
And so I want to teach you a simple Hebrew phrase tonight--you want to learn one? (Yes.) All right, everyone--almost--wants to learn. (Laughter). It's very simple. What you are doing, says Nehemiah, is NOT GOOD. In Hebrew: LO TOV. (Practices with crowd a couple times). Beautiful!
When we hear the cry, "We are slaves, we are powerless, we are broken", we must say to today's nobles and prefects--we must shout, we must scream--LO TOV! Say it again with me...LO TOV!
It is not good, it is not right! It is not good--not on my own recognizance. Not because I said so, or because some church council voted twelve to nine, but because the nobles and prefects are not acting with any sense of godliness. Without G-d consciousness. Without G-d, your silence is--LO TOV!
When Nehemiah gets angry, he does not just run off and scream and curse. The word says that he ponders and plans and investigates, and he assembles a large crowd and demands a hearing. He brings the power of the people, and even so he is met with silence. He does not stop at shouting lo tov, it is not good--he persists to put together a concrete plan to restore justice. He convinces his cohorts and brings the power of the people to bear. And they continue to agitate until the nobles and prefects say, "We will do what you say."
Ah, but that wasn't enough for Nehemiah! He brought those nobles and prefects before the people, saying, we will hold you, and not just us, but G-d will hold you accountable.
That group at that time is this group in our time, in our day, in this place, and at this moment. We shall shout, "Amen!" And just as at that time the text says that the nobles and prefects kept the promise, we shall ensure that those whom we have entrusted, those who we have elected, those who temporarily hold the power to say "yes", but to their G-d who would have them break their silence, and respond at all.
And this call is not for this time alone. Nehemiah tells us that he acts to create a change in the system. He cannot continuously keep the power of the crowd at hand. They won't assemble like we do here only on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. (Laughter...and someone near me remarked, "Christmas and Easter!") But he *can* continuously keep the power of G-d to combat injustice. The scripture tells us (something in Hebrew--elohim) because it is all *of* G-d, because of his respect *for* G-d, his belief in G-d's justice that sustains it, until the crowd returns.
G-d does not just want us to do justice. G-d is *waiting* for us to do justice. G-d is *expecting* us to do justice. G-d is saying, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"
(More Hebrew, then translated) Won't you walk in awe? Won't you walk the walk of justice? Won't you pursue justice? Won't you act, demanding from the nobles and the prefects that they do rather what is good. This is what G-d wants from those who venerate the divine
We congregate and stipulate that those in power quit debate and legislate
We bring force and might that they endorse and do right
We act with tact that they in fact enact
and that they accede to the need and cower to the power of G-d's call for justice.
We shall not be powerless, we shall not be broken, we shall not accept silence,
When B.R.E.A.D. hears the cry, we stand not idly by
We shall raise that cry on high, we shall sanctify, we will magnify,
and we shall personify the will of El Shaddai
...today we need not say, 'lo tov', that isn't good. Today we shall say as Nehemiah might say to the G-d of eternity, this is very good!
The next speaker would go on to thank Howard Apothaker, "The Rabbinical Rapper". ;-)
I'll share more from the meeting as time permits.
Alternate link for comments