Tetzaveh: February 24, 2018

Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s Parsha is a fascinating look at the world of fashion design. Perhaps this is the result of the earliest edition of “Project Runway” as the design of the uniform of the High Priest and the uniforms of the other priests are described in great detail. The robes are designed with dignity and comfort in mind from head to foot.

But in order to find a deeper significance to the various parts of their uniforms, we have to look not only at what is described but at what is not described. For example, we should note that the one article of clothing that are not mentioned are shoes. All the priests are supposed to officiate barefoot. We have to remember that when Moses first encounters God at the Burning Bush, God tells Moses to take the shoes off of his feet. The Torah says the priests must officiate barefoot and so no shoes are needed. We have to read closely and do our homework to understand the meaning of what the priests wear and the meaning of all that they don’t wear.

There is something else that is missing in our Parsha this week. The name of Moses does not appear. This is the only Parsha, since the end of Berayshit, that has no mention of Moses at all. Some Rabbis say that the reason Moses is not mentioned is because this week we marked the Yahrzeit of Moses; Adar 7 is the day that tradition says is the day that Moses died. Tetzaveh is the parsha that always occurs after Adar 7 and it does not mention Moses in respect for his Yahrzeit.

Tetzaveh also occurs during the season of Purim. Purim is about masks and costumes.  Even God’s name disappears in the Megillah of Esther. Esther herself is the Jew who disappears into the royal house of Persia and her name also means “the one who is hidden”. To find the missing people, we have to look deeply into our texts and pay attention to what we see and to what remains hidden.

But Moses and Esther and God are not the only hidden ones this week. We had to look long and hard to find some other people who were hiding from the public. How many politicians were nowhere to be found as the topic of sensible gun control found its way to the front of the news. Instead of retreating into their grief and the loss of friends and family, the children and adults of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School went on a very public journey to confront their lawmakers about where they stand on this very important topic.

I hope everyone here took the time to hear what these young people and their parents had to say at the many press conferences, rallies, town halls and demonstrations they participated in. Many of the families from Sandy Hook, CT also went to Florida, joining the survivors of the Parkland shooting to look for lawmakers who are willing to go on the record with their position on the many facets of sensible gun control. The students were asking, “Where do you stand on a minimum age to buy a rifle or a semi-automatic weapon?” “Should assault weapons be banned completely?” “Should mentally ill people be allowed to buy guns?” “Should criminals and terrorists be allowed to buy guns?” “Should we have a stronger background check to make sure these people do not go out and purchase a firearm?” “As a leader,” they asked, “Would you no longer take money from the NRA, recognizing their role in our inability to pass any meaningful gun legislation?” “How will you make our schools safer?” “Would you allocate the money necessary to make a school, to make our school, safe from a deranged killer?” “Why is it taking so long to pass sensible gun laws?” “Why do so many children, adults and teachers have to die?” “How many more will die before our politicians will act?”

When these students and these adults went to the Florida state capital to meet with their state representatives, suddenly none of the state legislators were around. They were all hiding. They all had other meetings to attend. The only few representatives around were the ones who already agreed with the students. The cable news network, CNN had a town hall and invited our President and the governor of Florida to answer questions and they refused to attend. Both state senators from Florida did attend. And I give Senator Marco Rubio a lot of credit for showing up. He received the third largest donation from the NRA from among all the other senators. He was booed and mocked by the crowd, but I will tell you he stood his ground. I personally may not agree with his positions on sensible gun control, but I give him credit for trying to explain his position to the large crowd in Florida. And by the end of the night, Senator Rubio noted that because of the dialogue some of his positions had changed. The congressman, Ted Deutch, from that district was there. He has long been a supporter of sensible gun control as is the other state senator, Bill Nelson. After that part of the program ended, CNN had a spokesperson for the NRA and the County Sheriff on stage. The NRA spokesperson tried to blame the Sheriff for the carnage in Parkland saying that they knew the shooter was dangerous and they did not take him off the streets. The Sheriff noted that he did all that the law allows, and the lawmakers will not pass the laws needed to help them protect the public. It was interesting that just the day before, the state legislature passed a bill that declared pornography as a health risk and therefore dangerous for children but would not pass a bill banning AR 15 rifles as a danger.

We don’t know how this issue will play out over the months ahead. Will it remain in the front of the news or will it fade away and be forgotten until the next school shooting? Florida is far from here. The survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre will be 12 and 13 years old this year. The survivors of the Parkland shooting, many will turn 18 this year. It will be five more years until the Sandy Hook survivors can vote. In Parkland, many of the survivors will be voting this fall. We will see who will be hiding from them then.

So, what can we do? How are we supposed to act with our elected officials?  What we need to do is what everyone in the country should be doing each and every day. The first thing we need to do is to mark our calendars for every single election day from now until the day we die. I don’t care if it is a special election, a primary election, a state-wide election, a national election or a presidential election. Every single one of us should be voting in every single election. Period. Filling out a ballot is the single, most powerful weapon that is put in our hands and we must never fail to use it when we are asked. Every election should have, if not 100% participation, then as close to that as we can muster. It begins with us. Every election is important, and we should vote, not as if our future depends on it, but BECAUSE our future depends on it.

But committing to vote is only one part of what we need to do. We can not and must not be “one issue” voters. Politicians are a messy bunch of people. They all have some positions we agree with and some positions that we don’t agree with. This means we must do our homework, we need to study their positions. We need to demand from our news sources a full investigation of those who would run for office and what they stand for and what they stand against and then we need to weigh carefully these positions to make sure that our many causes are addressed. Just as we ask our lawmakers to make compromises, we may be called to compromise as well. But we have to find the best candidates and make sure we vote for them. This takes a lot of time and energy but if you don’t want to fall victim to Russian Social Media Bots and Trolls, there is no excuse for not looking for the truth before we vote. (and yes, Michelle and I vote in every, and I mean every, election)

Third, if we have causes that we believe in, we must work on behalf of those causes. If they are important to us, we need to be vocal about our opinions. Don’t leave the politicians to guess what is important or wait for the next poll. We need to get out and work with others to make sure that our causes get the time and attention they deserve. Perhaps we can work for another cause if it will get others to work for our cause. There is no perfect political party nor is there a perfect cause to get behind. All of life is messy and we need to wade into the mess and try and get out of it all we can to support moving our society forward. We will need to make hard choices, but nobody ever said that democracy is easy. We can’t ask our leaders to make hard choices if we are not prepared to make hard choices ourselves.

Finally, if we don’t like the way our leadership is hiding, then we may have to take up the mantle of leadership ourselves. I don’t believe that you need to accept corruption, accept donations in return for favorable treatment, to be elected. Yes, it is true that a well-financed campaign is often successful, but money does not always make the difference. Often times you get more attention if you show up. Don’t hide from your community, get involved. There will always be someone who does not like us so why should we live our lives in fear of what someone else might say? Abraham Lincoln lost many elections before he became President of the United States and made a big difference to our country. The political class in this country counts on us being too afraid to get involved. We need to find our own way to get involved in how this country is run. There can be no more hiding.

Our leadership in this country is too busy hiding so they don’t have to address the real issues that need to be solved. They hide behind party loyalty, lobbyists money and fear of being voted out of office. We need courageous lawmakers. We need thoughtful lawmakers and we need transparent lawmakers to insure the future of this country for ourselves and for our children. If that means we have to run for office ourselves, so be it. We need to look deeply into the political deadlock of this country and find the hidden path to our future. The problems of our society apparently will not be determined by the leadership we have now, but by the voters who care enough to think about, research and elect the people who can get our country moving again.

The only question I have is will that educated voter be you?

May God send us the leaders we deserve, and may we do the work to deserve good leaders as we say … Amen and Shabbat shalom

Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, February 24, 2018.