King Avimelech of Gerar, Harvey Weinstein, and Us

Makom Shalom is proud to be a diverse community with a range of views in current affairs and matters of faith. The views I present on this blog are my own and not a statement on behalf of the Makom Shalom community. I encourage you to share your views here in the comment section on this blog. I welcome respectful and engaged dialog.                                                                                                            Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis 

Each day brings news of another prominent man falling from grace. Women are speaking up about sexual abuse at the hands of powerful men  in unprecedented numbers. Many of us are in shock when beloved cultural leaders are shown to be so flawed. I think of the women's courage and the burden they carried for too long. These women are reporting crimes that took place years and even decades ago. This historic reckoning has been a long time coming.

Two weeks ago, at our first service in our amazing new home in Lakeview, we discussed this historic reckoning in a biblical context. The dysfunction of powerful men taking advantage of women in their sphere of influence is as old as the Bible. The week's Torah portion told the case of Avimelech the King of Gerar. Rebecca and her husband Isaac are his guests in the royal palace. King Avimelech discloses that he almost slept with Rebecca against her will. 

In the two weeks since our last service, even more cultural icons have become undone - here in the U.S. and across the globe. We are in the midst of a revolution, and it is a welcome one.

A year ago, we were reeling from the news that a man accused by 20 women of gross acts of indecency - including many outright crimes - was now our president. This was just one of several key concerns. We promised to resist any abrogation of our civil rights. We celebrated Shabbat with our Muslim brothers and sisters here at Makom and in Oak Lawn. 

But as a religious community we are concerned not only for justice in the world but also for each other's wellbeing. Justice and community are intertwined. On the one hand, justice gives us hope. On the other, if we get despondent how can we act in the world?

You may recall that I suggested that we rally ourselves with the ancient rabbinic wisdom: "Just like one should bless the good, so one should bless the bad" (Mishnah, Berachot-Blessings 9:5). When we receive bad news, we should try to greet the news with a blessing, even if - and especially when - we don't feel like it. The Jewish formula for this blessing is: "gam zo l'tovah, this too is for the best." (Talmud Ta'anit-Fast Days 21a)

In monotheism's holistic view of the world, evil is part of the plan, too. We strive for justice and we should continue to do so. But as a spiritual practice we should surrender to the possibility it is only through evil that we can receive certain blessings. Consider this: had a man accused of multiple acts of sexual assault not defeated the first woman presidential candidate in our country's history, would sexual assault be on our agenda? Would the downfall of Harvey Weinstein have triggered this worldwide revolution in women's rights or would it have remained another isolated incident?

As a father, a husband, a son, man raising two girls, I will continue to shine a light on women's rights. At this moment, I am grateful to these women and these times that these crimes are being exposed. I am hopeful that the world is becoming that much safer for the next generation of women.

We are surrounded by blessings even when it doesn't feel like that at all. At the darkest time of the year, let us see the light in what presents itself to us as darkness. 

Gam zoh l'tovah! This too will turn out for the best!