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Defund the Police: Chutzpah and Exhaustion

How many of us are upset, even seeing those words in a Rabbinic Reflection by one of your Holy Blossom Temple rabbis?   I could write the rest of this reflection about the world-leading productivity of dairy farms in Negev desert, and I bet my phone, and the phone of the senior leadership of the congregation would still be ringing off the hook.

And it is that upset, that disquiet, that rebellion in the self, that I want to talk about.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses strikes the rock, shouting, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

Moses has been leading the Jewish people for so many years, and the people come to him time and again with complaints.  He is tired and worn down by this leadership.   He just overcame a challenge of his leadership by Korach, and then his sister, Miriam passes away, and he can’t handle another request and overreacts. “Listen, you rebels.”

Many of us are existentially tired during this time of physical distancing and feel worn down as many of the same conversations and complaints fight for our attention yet again.  Didn’t we deal with these issues and succeed in the Civil Rights era of social justice?  Why do people have to use language that is so extreme?  Why do I have do deal with issues that are not my own, are unfamiliar to me, or seem to threaten my comfort?

The proposal which our city debated on Monday was about reinvesting funds in mental health and social services, but the framing language comes in a moment of pent-up anger and rebellion.  For some of us, it brings upset, disquiet, a negative reaction deep in the self.

While some say that Moses’s sin was expressing his hurt through chutzpadik name-calling – I personally applaud Moses for his moment of anger.  He should be angry – he is human and feels the burden of leadership weighing down on him, letting the people know where he is as an emotive self.  And he is able to recover from this moment and regain his composure in the scenes that follow.

His chutzpah of emotion in response to the chutzpah of challenging systems of authority are what makes this story so compelling to me.

One of my teachers, Rabbi Dr. Jan Katzew asks us to reflect on this incident, “What is motivating our chutzpah? Are we grandstanding and taking credit for work that is not of our own design?… Are we taking up a cause that may not benefit us directly, but will give voice to someone who has been silenced? Our moral integrity, that is, our soul, is at stake.”

We may be upset and tired of concepts of constant rebellion and questioning the way things are done, and we have a right to be upset.  And we have to have the chutzpah, also, to deeply listen to the reasons behind that discontent, and respond with moral integrity.

As this public debate continues, I hope we are able to question where in ourselves chutzpah comes from, and where it is leading us.

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