Does it help you to know that the Talmud says in Olam Ha Ba, The World to Come (the Afterlife), God corrects the injustices of this upside-down world?
It helps me a little bit because it confirms that whether a criminal act is discovered or prosecuted, it is still wrong. I like the idea that there might be universal human standards or values about what ethical behavior looks like – despite variations in cultures across the planet.
Jewish ideals are one aspect of my “God.” Whether one believes in a Supreme Being or an Afterlife, there is a Jewish way of looking at the world that transcends time and politics. Religion and politics don’t mix well, because, as the saying goes, “If you lie down with pigs, you’re going to get up smelling like shit.” In my opinion, while we might wish religion could inform government, the best religious impulses will tend to be corrupted by government. I have a hard time talking about politics in a spiritual context.
Although theoretically in God’s court, all are judged by the same standards, in our so-called justice system, wealth and status allow criminal behavior to go unexamined and unpunished, while the poor may do prison time even if they are innocent.
…the elite’s exemption from the rule of law has been strengthened at exactly the same time that the law has become an increasingly draconian instrument of punishment for the rest of Americans – particularly the poor and racial minorities. Not only does the law fail to equalize the playing field; it perpetuates and even generates tremendous social inequality….we end the “nightmare”of high-level criminality by sweeping it under the rug, protecting the wrongdoers, and pretending their crimes never happened.You are probably wondering what this has to do with this week’s parasha. We find in our story that the Israelites are constructing the Mishkan (their portable temple) according to specifications God provides, which are detailed enough to serve as a construction contract. This interior design portion of the Torah informs us that God prefers a color scheme of sky blue and crimson, likes wood and precious metals for interior finishes, and enjoys linen and leather furnishings. He also appreciates a nice cherub motif. (The Haftarah describes Solomon’s construction of the First Temple, which replaces the Mishkan, and also serves as an Earthly dwelling for God.) The symbolism of these materials has been explored by rabbis over the centuries – the gold on the inside might represent the spiritual light within each person, for example.
-from With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, by Glenn Greenwald
The portability of the Mishkan means that the Israelites can shelter and protect the Divine Presence wherever they may go. The concept of portability has extended past the destruction of the Second Temple into the present, where we create space to receive the Shechinah (the indwelling presence of God, also known as “the Sabbath bride” or “feminine” aspect of God) not only in our homes and places of worship, but more significantly, within ourselves through our actions.
Being good, decent people brings God into our midst. We do not need a High Priest to say God’s name secretly once a year for us. By doing good, studying and transmitting Torah to our children (and ourselves), by taking time off for Shabbat, being good parents, being good spouses, being good friends and doing ahavath chesed (acts of loving kindness) we build our own spiritual Mishkan over ourselves for God to dwell with us. This is the basis of the religion of Judaism as formulated by our rabbis in our Talmud and other texts.
-from A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud by Rabbi Arthur Segal.
Ideally, religious engagement provides a refuge from the insanity of the world, and inspiration to live a higher quality of life – so that even when our leaders fail as role models, we don’t take their misdeeds as permission to also behave like scumbags. We don’t think committing a felony is OK because “everyone else is doing it.” We don’t allow them to cheapen our values or to contaminate our attitudes. We can be better than the members of the American Nobility, better than the owners of corporations that collude with them in breaking the law. As Paul Simon writes in the song Loves me Like a Rock, when the Devil calls his name, he says “Who do you think you’re fooling?” because he remembers that his mother loves him, so he never thinks of giving in to pressure to be sleazy; he knows who he is, and stays centered.
How do you engage politically without feeling sullied by the process, without feeling yourself being dragged down by bickering and infighting and underhanded tactics? How do you contribute to social justice without “fighting dirty,” without lashon ha ra (casting aspersions), or giving in to the kind of self-righteousness that might block you from examining your own shortcomings? Can you focus on your ideals without becoming smug?
I often feel so turned off by the political arena that I ignore it. I try to block it out of my mind. I hate to go to political gatherings. The news makes me want to vomit. It is a struggle for me to mix concern about what kind of society we live in with “activism” that might help to change things. It feels insurmountable. My reaction is not driven by indifference or even apathy, but by revulsion. Those who have contributed to social gains appear to have been able to ignore the fact that, like Sysiphus, they will be pushing a boulder uphill for eternity. And they are somehow strong enough that they didn’t need to protect themselves the way I feel I need to protect myself from conflict and status wars. Or maybe they simply haven't had that luxury.
As Mary Oliver writes in the poem Her Grave, “Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment of her long slumber?...Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace of his own making?” I believe our better impulses are “God-given” – they are hard-wired, no measure of special merit on our part, although we have a choice about whether to listen to the better inclinations.
So that is why I ask.