Q: I'm writing this letter with a tired and heavy heart. I am confused as to why I cannot even pretend to agree politically with my Republican family members anymore. Over the decades, I have always reviled what tasted unpalatable in their views of the world. — B
A: I do not write about politics in this column for several obvious and important reasons, mainly the God Squad mission statement that Father Tom Hartman and I wrote in 1987 that kept us loving and focused for almost 30 years. What we believed most of all was this: "We know enough about how we are different but not enough yet about how we are all the same." What applies to religion also applies to politics.
Dear B, no amount of family love should coerce you into agreeing with family members who believe things that you believe are injurious to our republic and our planet. However, as the God Squad mission statement urges you to remember, there are beliefs that link you to them because these beliefs are in their hearts as deeply as they are in yours. They want your family to love each other and they want America to prosper; they want clean air and water; they want health care for all the sick among us. They just have a different path up the same mountain. That is the metaphor Father Tom and I used to describe religious differences. We are all climbers up the same mountain on different paths, and we have much to learn from every climber.
The ancient rabbis who came before me (well, I am in the ancient column in some lists of rabbis made by my students) taught, "Who is wise? One who learns from every person." Consider your Republican family members not just misguided bigots (as Republican family members on the other side may consider you), but rather try to see them as your teachers of some truth that you have missed along the way. I would advise them the same thing, if they wrote to me complaining about you.
Finally, my advice to America in this upcoming mudslinging political season that is now beginning in earnest is to look up. This is the story that explains what I mean:
The Israelites who walked through the Red Sea in the Exodus from Egypt almost immediately began complaining to Moses on the other side about not having enough water and meat. The rabbis asked how it was possible for those who had seen the greatest miracles to so quickly lose faith? Their answer was that many of them did not see the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea at all. How was this possible? They answered that the reason many missed the miracle was that they never looked up, and so all they saw was mud.
The problem of the Exodus is also the problem of modern politics. America is a miracle of human freedom. It has muddy problems, but it is still a miracle. I pray intensely that our political contenders — and all of us who must reject or affirm them — look up. Without losing sight of the mud that sucks us down, the problems we must still solve together, may they remember always to look up and speak of the wondrous miracle of a land granting freedom to so many for so long. If the ancient Israelites could have missed the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, we surely can commit ourselves not to miss the opportunity to hold dear the miracle of America that we can all see if we just look up.
Dear B, you are not pretending with your family. You are just looking up.
The mail bag
Q: My local paper, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, publishes three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The God Squad is printed in the Sunday issue, along with the color comics, including the Friday and Saturday ones. Your columns are one week late relative to the topic, especially when tied to a particular holiday. I asked the editor, and she told me that it is a production matter that cannot be changed. Say it isn't so. Thanks in advance for the time and effort. — B from somewhere near Harrisburg
A: Sadly, dear B, it is so. Sometimes I write about holidays late to get the full feeling of what they mean (English translation: I was lazy and late) and sometimes (usually) I write about them early, but the local papers around the country that carry my column publish them late for mysterious reasons over which I have no control. Here's a fix. Clip my holiday columns, put them in a drawer, and don't read them now. Then next year take them out and read them a week early.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.