As human beings, we need a sense of belonging, and that sense of belonging is what connects us to the many relationships we develop. Members of a religious community come together to support each other, learn from each other, inspire each other, to feel a sense of fellowship and safety.
The word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the from Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’. When we enter a Jewish house of worship, we are supposed to say: Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov... - How beautiful are your tents, Jacob. It is an acknowledgement that we have moved from secular space to a holy place. One definition is that a sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety. Another is that it is a holy place. That is how I envision a religious community: a safe and holy space to commune with each other and God.
To this end, you may have noticed that I do not preach politics - except to exhort you to VOTE twice a year.
I’m very into politics. I actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world and I’m very adamant about my views. However, it would have to be a very rare occasion for you to find out what my political party was or who I’m voting for.
Politics always begins arguments; even if you and the person you’re speaking with have similar views. Not everyone has the same opinion, and this goes for many different topics, but for some reason politics gets everyone all riled up. Your particular views are your particular views. Fine. No one can or wants to change that, but I feel they have no place in our religious home. These are sanctuaries and need to be safe places.
When one is hurt in a sanctuary, the wound is twice as painful because we feel that we should have been in a safe place.
In the words of the Rabbis, “A loose tongue is like an arrow. Once it is shot, there is no holding it back.” The Midrash notes that five times, the word “Torah,” teaching, is used to refer to ‘tzara’at’ - leprosy. From this superfluous repetition, the sages derive that “one who utters evil reports is considered in violation of the entire five books of the Torah.”
A marvelous tale is told of a wandering merchant who came into a town square, offering to sell the elixir of life. Of course, large crowds would surround him, each person eager to purchase eternal youth. When pressed, the merchant would bring out the Book of Psalms, and show them the verse “Who desires life? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from guile.” (Psalm 34)
In an age awash in corrosive mistrust and an alienating sense of loneliness and isolation, there is little hope of establishing real community until we learn to speak a new language – one of responsibility, kindness and compassion.
Learning to control our speech will enable us to transform the world into a community that respects the shared humanity of all people. There are so few safe places in this acrimonious and strife-filled world. Be a part of a sacred space and a sacred people: a makom hakodesh and an am kadosh. Be part of the change.
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