America has always seen itself as a special nation, unique and set apart, with a calling that all human beings should enjoy the blessings of equality and freedom.
We express this belief in our national sacred texts. The Declaration of Independence claims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address wrote, “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” This claim transcends politics. It is a moral claim that human liberty and equality are primary human values and the United States’ task is to provide these to all our citizens.
This week’s Torah portion also speaks to sacred service, that of the Levites to God in the daily operation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
The Levites are set apart and must purify themselves for this service, “Thus you shall set the Levites apart from the Israelites, and the Levites shall be Mine. Thereafter the Levites shall be qualified for the service of the Tent of Meeting, once you have cleansed them and designated them as an elevation offering.” (Numbers 7:14-15)
Sacred service, responding to a moral call, requires purification, not just of the body as in the case of the Levites, but of the heart and soul as well.
Our nation is once again confronting the ugly reality of racism, of our history of violence against Americans of color, and of the privileges granted to those of us with white skin.
If we believe in the promise of America, of liberty and equality for all human beings, then we must work to purify ourselves of the spiritual and moral stain of racism.
Even if we have no conscious malice in our hearts, most of us benefit from the current that subjugates and visits violence on American’s of color.
If we believe in the dream of America, then we must be engaged in the process of ending systematic racism.
The ancient Israelites were not perfect–they were deeply flawed–but they strove to fulfill a divine vision of what a just society should look like.
As their descendents, we should do no less.