Chukat: Looking for sweet water

The waters of Meribah, bitter waters. We are drinking from them now.

Miriam dies in this parasha, Chukat, and the Rabbis tell us that all the water that had been available to the people through the wilderness dries up. Naturally, the people complain. God tells Moses to go to a particular place, and speak to a rock, and the people will have water.

Maybe it’s because Moses’ sister just died, maybe he’d just had it with the complaining, maybe he was trying to raise his status to the community. For whatever reason, Moses hit the rock instead of talking to it. Water came out, the people’s thirst was slaked, but there was a penalty Moses had to pay: he would take the people to the edge of the Land, but would never be allowed in.

Harsh. Bitter waters, indeed.

We’re about to celebrate the 4th of July, one of my favorite holidays. I love this country. I hang the flag, I cry at parades, I cheer for fireworks. But boy, this year feels different. I feel like I’m tasting bitter waters. A lot of things are swirling in my head.

I’m in a play that is all about Jewish identity – what should it mean to be Jewish, and how exactly does one live a Jewish life? It all takes place against the backdrop of the Nazi March in Skokie, in the 1970s, which tested, and ultimately came down on the side of, the First Amendment. Just this week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu  basically said the ultra-Orthodox community is in charge of the rest of us non-Orthodox Jews, and that rather than follow through with promises he and the Knesset made regarding egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, well…staying in power is more important, so never mind, the deal is off. But please, do come visit, donate, and support us. Just don’t pray here.

Then there was the incident at the Chicago Dyke March last weekend before the Pride Parade. Three women who were carrying a Pride flag with a Jewish star on it were asked to leave, being told that the presence of the Jewish star makes others feel “unsafe” and that it’s a “trigger”, and that the Dyke March is anti-Zionist, so you Jewish lesbians aren’t welcome here. Zionism, they said, is racist, so even though you’re not carrying an actual Israeli flag, well,  please leave. Now. And just yesterday, we are subjected to yet another new low in the Tweeterverse coming out of the White House, attacking  a journalist on her looks, because she dared to criticize the President. I’m afraid to think how much lower this “leader” can sink to, but his venom is poisoning our whole country.  And then there’s Philando Castille, may he rest in peace.  The rest of us can’t rest in any kind of peace, there’s too much to be done.

And the health care legislation? Oy.

I think about the bitter waters we’re all drinking in today’s political environment. Miriam died, the fresh water dried up, the people rose up and violence became an immediate answer, though it turned the waters bitter.

What exactly do we celebrate this Shabbat and July 4, then? Violent speech and deeds that satisfies our immediate thirst for what? Revenge? Tit –for-tat insults? We are sacrificing the deep and satisfying thirst-quenching sweet water of informed, intelligent, civil discourse, for a gulp of muddy, acrimonious uninformed and shallow water.

It is up to each of us to turn aside and not drink from this poisonous well. Stand up. Speak up. Find the sweet water of justice and equality, common sense and compassion. Then we can truly celebrate our independence, and the beauty of this land we call ours.




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