Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.

Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.

Finding the heart for the fight.

On the wall above my desk, over my right shoulder, is a framed homemade Obama lawn sign created last October by me and my young sons. Bold block capital letters outlined in black markers, filled in with red and blue crayons, it said everything we wanted to say: “OBAMA.” Right next to that is a framed poster saying “Yes We Did. November 4, 2008.” My mom and my sister have matching posters.

Down the hall in the kitchen, a Hillary Clinton button still shines on a bulletin board crowded with family pictures, Bar Mitzvah invitations, and newspaper clippings, revealing my initial hero in the last Presidential campaign. My mother and I vied to be Hillary Clinton delegates to the Democratic Convention. When that didn’t pan out (for any of us), my mom and I hopped an airplane to canvas door-to-door for Obama in suburban Las Vegas.

I think you get the picture. I’m a born liberal. A lefty. A political being. I’m also a lawyer, a person comfortable with words, persuasion and argument. At least I should be. But start in on the merits of any emotionally-charged policy debate–health care, anyone?–and I go all floppy in the head. I forget my facts. I fall apart.

It is so embarrassing. I need a Democratic Toastmasters. Because when the facts start flying, I’m like the post-season Dodgers with runners in scoring position: I choke. I don’t get it. I should be able to hold my own against Limbaugh-ites and Fox-heads. But when the debate starts, I get so riled! My cheeks flush, my blood heats, my veins burst. My politics live in my heart.

Lucky for me, I know some others who don’t get flustered this way. When it comes to the health care debate, here is one person who said what I would have liked to. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, California, nailed it. We are our brothers’ keeper. Lives are at stake. We cannot stand idly by, or we are complicit. And, oh yeah, government does a pretty good job with this sort of large scale thing. Check out the whole sermon/speech at http://www.kehillatisrael.org/prayer_holydays.php?id=2129 And when I find some more good posts, I’ll add them.

Happy reading, and remain calm.