Rabbi: Finding hope in a hopeless America

Monday, July 13, 2020
Op-Eds by Faculty

(CNN)Another black man lies dead, a consequence of an officer of the law's excessive use of force.

As his life ebbed away, George Floyd uttered the same desperate words as Eric Garner had almost six years ago: "I can't breathe." Neither Garner's plea nor Floyd's appeared to have any effect on the actions of officers involved. And so we return to an all-too-familiar scene: a black man accused of committing a petty crime rendered powerless and dying in the street.

Questions of racial justice are often complex. Good people can struggle with how to redress past injustices without perpetuating new ones. They can have doubts about whether a given policy will alleviate a social problem or exacerbate it.

But questions of racial justice often begin, or ought to, with something basic and elemental: Do we believe -- I mean truly believe -- that all human beings are equal? Do we know -- in our minds, in our hearts and in our guts -- that a black child is as infinitely valuable as a white child; that a black adolescent has the right to the same opportunities as a white adolescent; that a black man under arrest deserves exactly the same treatment as a white man?

As a rabbi, I experience these questions in theological terms. In the ancient world, the king of a civilization was understood as an "image" of the god that civilization worshipped. Put simply, it was the king, and the king alone, who was seen as an image of God.

The Hebrew Bible turns that idea on its head. It is not merely the king who is created in God's image. Genesis 1:27 teaches that it is every human being, without exception. In other words, we are all royalty. Every last one of us is a king or queen.

According to a rabbinic teaching from the Midrash on Psalms, when a person makes their way in the world, a retinue of angels walks before them and proclaims: "Make way for an icon of the Blessed Holy One."