The VOICE of Inspiration

By Rabbi Rick Sherwin

This week I attended a very special educational training session, sponsored by the Faith in Public Life, a national network of clergy and faith leaders united in the prophetic pursuit of justice and the common good. In addition to challenging presentations, the workshop including brainstorming sessions as people sat around tables in the room. I found myself at a table of six: one Jew (obviously me), four Muslim community leaders, and a Christian representative from the Peace and Justice Alliance at a very large, local college. Interesting discussion…

One of our tasks was to identify events that might incite acrimony and violence, especially those infused with the words “us-we” and “them-they,” words. It was, unfortunately, too easy to find examples in our polarized, partisan world. “They” want to destroy “us” – “They” want to take jobs from “us” – “They” want to [fill in the blank] “us.” Conversely, “we” often respond to “them” with self-assigned virtue and righteous arrogance: “We must block “them” – “We” cannot allow “them” – “We” must [fill in the blank] “them.”

At the workshop, we all acknowledged the frustration and anger that flows from the narrow-minded attitude of “us” and “them.” When we find ourselves either immersed in or witnessing categorical blame or categorical self-righteousness, we are certainly within ethical limits to be angry enough to break the pattern, provided our anger leads to action that is non-violent and not violence-inducing.

To achieve justice and the common good, we – all of us and each of us – require incidents of insight, not inciting incidents!

The least we can do in our highly polarized and fractured world is to agree not to promote or provoke violence, either in word or deed. Faith in Public Life goes one step further: we all should develop the awareness to anticipate words or deeds that might incite, encourage, or allow violence to flourish.

The Rabbinic Sages debated the merit of a Jew attending the gladiator games in the Roman amphitheater. It was an arena of “us” (the Romans) and “them” (the slaves destined to die). Some Sages proposed that one’s attendance might be seen as condoning cruelty and execution as a spectator sport. Rabbi Nathan objected: One should attend because his single voice of protest might be enough to awaken the conscience of those around him, and because his single voice might influence the Emperor to back away from the impending violent death of the slave. A single word might have the power to calm a mob-minded, violence-oriented crowd.

I appreciate the insight expressed by Green Day in their song, Troubled Times:

What good is love and peace on earth

When it’s exclusive? …

What part of history [have] we learned

When it’s repeated.

Some things we’ll never overcome

If we don’t seek it.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Rick


Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.


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