Guest view: Choose life; choose justice

Rabbi Michael Ross
Temple Beth Shalom, Hudson
Rabbi Michael Ross

These are stressful, anxious days. Many of us feel disconnected from our friends and family. Many of us feel varying degrees of loneliness.

After seeing how God called each of the days of creation “good” in Chapter 1 of Genesis, we then encounter the first thing that is described as “not good” in the Hebrew Bible -- human beings should not be alone, it’s in the blueprint of creation. (Gen 2:16)

So we seek connection, to people, to our communities, to our own selves. The High Holy Days are a moment  of reconnection for the Jewish community.

Last Friday, we celebrated the new year. Oh, how we need a new year right now! And 10 days later we stand before God, and examine our commitments to ourselves, to each other and to God on Yom Kippur.

In English, we call these 10 days the High Holy days, in Hebrew we call them the “Days of Awe,” the “Season of Returning” to our best selves.

On Monday, liberal Jewish communities read the Hebrew Bible section towards the end of Deuteronomy, where the next generation of Israelites, the ones who didn’t know slavery, the children of the slaves, are asked to make their own covenant with God. They are asked to examine the choice of choosing blessing and life or choosing curses that make us strangers to the land and to each other. (Deut. 29)

So I want to ask each of us, as we are on the threshold of this new year, to choose life. But how do we do that? We do that by choosing love.

We start with loving ourselves and our families and our communities and we do that by opening our hearts to the other, even when our hearts want to remain closed.

    We choose life, we choose love so that our children and their children may live and live in love. And this summer  as we have seen, even that is not enough. We must also choose justice. 

Moments before the new year began, we learned of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She was a dedicated prophetic voice who pursued justice as she helped us reimagine a world of fairness for both women and men.

Our sense of obligation to her memory, and to justice must fuel our commitments for racial justice, environmental justice, equality for LGBTS folks, and our continued work to fight for equality for women in the workplace. 

It can be exhausting to work tirelessly for justice. But I know our children thank us for getting the work done. It is easy to despair from the burden of the work. The rabbis of Talmud taught that we do not need to finish the work, but we must all do what we can. 

Alongside choosing life and love, we must begin to take responsibility for our community.

In the Jewish tradition, we call this level of responsibility, mitzvot, the ethical and moral commandments that guide our lives. So let me be the first rabbi to say that voting in the election this year is not an optional act. It is a moral obligation, it is a mitzvah. Vote.

I wish us all a sweet, healthy new year, may this be the year that we wake up to our responsibilities to choose life, to choose love, and to choose justice.