BY RABBI BRIAN ZACHARY MAYER
With intent to douse her brother, my 11-year-old Annie tugged on the backyard garden hose. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” I shouted. She didn’t see that the hose, tangled on a garden stake, would damage a portion of the garden if she pulled any further.
She pulled and I received another mess – yet another I did not cause – to clean up.
Last week, in lieu of my usual 40/52 week-a-year newsletter, I sent a note explaining that my prepared, polished article about staining a picket fence and our consumer driven society was off-topic. I clarified: “Because today the focus needs to be on black lives.”
Bob W. wrote back exposing his failure to fully understand: “I agree that black lives matter, in fact the mantra needs to be that all lives matter. All lives matter does not take anything away from black lives matter.”
My response: “The topic at hand is black lives. Changing to all lives changes the focus and we need at this time to be focused on black lives. I think of it like this: let’s say my son broke his leg and came to me for attention. And, let’s say my daughter comes because she hurt her toe. Yes, her toe hurts, but were I to focus on it, I would take away from the more pressing needs of my boy. All lives are not consistent targets of police and civic brutality.”
Anne G wrote: “I was talking to my young children about the protests and explaining why people have bubbled over with frustration about how black people are treated unfairly. They were shocked to hear that black people are treated so differently by law enforcement, that they are more often arrested and killed during arrest. Their shock was a wake up that I should be more shocked that this is happening. That I should be unwilling to just feel sad, accept this as a terrible fact, and move on with my day.”
My response: “I feel sick about this too, am going to protests, and organizing as I can.”
Jewish tradition maintains that before God created the world, God faced a unique problem: if I am everywhere, how can I create anything separate from me? The solution: God contracted God’s self into God’s self, creating a vacuum into which creation could occur. However, the tension within the containers of God’s essence exploded (you might too, if you were filled with God, no?) and sent shards into the world. Jewish tradition says that repair of the world – tikkun olam – is possible when humanity does righteous deeds, bringing to light the shattered fragments of the divine.
Neither you nor I caused systemic racism. Nonetheless repairing the broken is still our job.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box rotb.org, an internet-based, global group of thousands of digital-age seekers.