We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal. This is the bedrock value upon which our country was founded, and the basis for all of our constitutional rights and protections.
The equality of humankind is a universal truth of all the great religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Created in the image of God, we are all God’s children no matter our race, gender, nationality or station in life. That does not mean that we are all equally likeable or that we all act in humane and decent ways. Thus the conundrum facing decent people, how to respectfully treat those who do not respectfully treat others.
The bible lays out the aspirational goal -- love the other as thy self. It is not a commandment to love the lovable other. That is what decent people naturally do. Rather, a commandment to treat the unlovable with the love/respect accorded to all of humanity. It is a recognition that our inclination is to be wary of the other, to attribute negative characteristics to the stranger, and to disparage those who do not meet our expectations.
The requirement to love the other falls most heavily on religious leaders, the representatives of the religion. Commandments are more than aspirational goals for religious leaders. As the community role models, following the commandments is a necessary way of living.
Still, love the other does create dilemmas for religious leaders. I recently heard of a most poignant one. A rabbinic student came to a rabbi that I study with and asked for my Rabbi’s advice on whether to say the traditional prayer of mourning for her father. The prayer is said in a public setting to honor the dead. Her dilemma, her father had repeatedly raped her as a child. My Rabbi was flummoxed and had no good answer. Ultimately the rabbinic student came to her own resolution. She did say the mourning prayer, not for the father she had but for the father she wished she had.
Our political leaders face a comparable dilemma. A deplorable person is about to ascend to the highest office in the land. Attending the inauguration implicitly honors a man not deserving of such respect.
Yet, the inauguration ceremony is not about any one person. It represents the stirring ideals of the Gettysburg Address – “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Political power is transitory, given to our leaders by we the people, but only for a finite period of time.
Attending the inauguration bears witness that the institutions of our country are stronger than any one man. I want our leaders to attend, not only when it is easy to attend, but also when it is not easy to attend. Especially when it is not easy to attend, for not attending disrespects our country’s ideals.
Hopefully those considering against attending will follow the lead of the rabbinate student who found the resolve to participate by considering the ideal rather than the actual. I want our leaders to place the country’s ideals above their own feelings and judgements.
And bearing witness is why I will be watching the inaugural address on Friday. Something I do not always do. Will you join me?