This week in much of the adult learning I have facilitated, we have wrestled with questions of boundaries. I spoke at a Christian college in Reno last week and had the students compare the words of Rabbi Hillel and Jesus. Rabbi Hillel said: “What is hateful to you do not do unto others.” For Christians, this teaching was changed to: “Do unto others as you would have others to do to you.” What is the difference between these two? Rabbi Hillel’s teaching is respectful of difference, of the other’s orientation and perspective not being the same as your own. The latter saying assumes sameness, that what I want in my own life is what I can assume you would want as well. It doesn’t respect that the two people may be quite different, and may want different things. We are not totalitarian.
On Purim, the Book of Esther plays with the idea of outsider and insider. Like Moses before her, Esther finds herself like royalty in the epicenter of (non-Jewish) power. As outsider, she becomes insider, and as insider she advocates for those on the outside. Is that not similar to where we, as Jews, find ourselves in American life? We have become people of influence and people in positions of power. A generation ago, it would have been almost unthinkable for three Supreme Court justices and a serious contender for president to be Jewish. Who are the people, like the Jews of Persia in Esther’s day, whom we in positions of power must remember and advocate for?
We advocate for the stranger. We advocate for the oppressed. We advocate for those who have been left out of the halls of power, as we were in times past. We remember what was hateful to us—ignorance, bigotry, hatred, assimilation and cultural discrimination—and we stand up for those who experience similar oppression today. We remember what was hateful to us, and we stand up for those who experience being marginalized in society today: such as those who are poor, those who don’t have access to education, those behind bars unjustly. As outsiders who are now insiders, we as Jews are on the forefront of creating a more multi-cultural society, one that is not dominated by any one religion. And we must continue to stand with minorities, immigrants, those who find themselves still on the outside. We don’t want or need everyone to be Jewish. We do want everyone to live a life of justice and dignity because we know what that is like.
Dress up in a Star Wars costume next week for Purim on Wednesday night at 7:15, and happy Purim!