The blog of the Roaring Fork Valley (Reform) Jewish community
77 Meadowood Drive • Aspen, CO • 81611
Rabbi David Segal and Cantor Rollin Simmons

Friday, February 22, 2013

Redeeming Laughter

Rabbi David Segal
Aspen Jewish Congregation
22 February 2013 • Parashat Tetzaveh • almost Purim

Redeeming Laughter

When you look closely, Purim is a dark holiday. The Book of Esther is a violent and bloody story, at least in the end -- the part that we tend to gloss over in purim spiels...

Haman and his sons get impaled on stakes. And the solution to the decree to slaughter the Jews is not simply to cancel the decree; rather it is to allow the Jews, by royal edict, to assemble and fight back against their assailants. And fight back the Jews do: in Shushan alone they kill 500 men on the first day; and then in the King’s provinces, another 75,000 people. 75,000! A day of impending doom became a day of preemptive victory (not unlike, perhaps, the 6-day War in 1967).

However true the Book of Esther is, it’s clear the authors knew the Torah well. The Mordechai vs. Haman rivalry is an echo of two other confrontations in the Torah: Israel vs. Amalek (Exod 17 & Deut 25); and and King Saul vs. Agag (I Sam 15), an ancestor of Haman. Esther is yet another retelling of what seems to be a cyclical story. An enemy arises to destroy the Jews seemingly in each generation. Haman’s reason for Jew-hatred is as irrational as the others who have arisen through the centuries. We needn’t look very far back in history, or very many miles away, to see this ancient story cycling again.

And yet, on Purim, we take this dark story -- the murderous anti-Semitism and the Jews’ bloody (if necessary) defense -- and we turn it into a farce! We play dress-up and eat cookies and spin little toy noisemakers to blot out Haman’s name. We stage musical numbers to tell the story through dance and humor.

In that bizarre celebration there is great wisdom about the value of humor. I’d like to suggest tonight that humor is sacred and even redemptive in two important ways.

The first has to do with how we deal with our enemies. When Mel Brooks turned his 1968 movie The Producers into a recent Broadway hit, there was pushback from some Jewish voices. As you may know, it's a story about two down-and-out guys (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in the film; Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the musical) who devise a scheme for quick money: they’ll oversell a guaranteed Broadway flop, which means they’ll keep the extra money when the show fails. After culling through stacks upon stacks of the worst scripts they can find, the hit the jackpot -- or so they think. They come across a little number by a German emigre (who happens to be a Nazi sympathizer) entitled: Springtime for Hitler. As I said, some Jews weren’t so receptive to this production, taking offense at the mixing of humor and the Holocaust.

In response, Mel Brooks said in a 2006 interview with Spiegel:
Of course it is impossible to take revenge for 6 million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths....
     We take away from him the holy seriousness that always surrounded him and protected him like a cordon....
     It is an inverted seizure of power. For many years Hitler was the most powerful man in the world and almost destroyed us. To posses this power and turn it against him -– it is simply alluring.
What goes for Hitler here goes for Jewish humor through the ages: humor is redemptive in that it can help us cope with persecution and horror, and it can cut our enemies down to size -- at least verbally.

Consider a few examples of this type of Jewish humor. First, from Russia about 130 years ago...
After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, a government official in Ukraine menacingly addressed the local rabbi, "I suppose you know in full detail who was behind it."      "Oy," the rabbi replied, "I have no idea, but the government's conclusion will be the same as always: they will blame the Jews and the chimneysweeps."     "Why the chimneysweeps?" asked the befuddled official.     "Why the Jews?" responded the rabbi.
And another from Russia that needs some introduction, for this is a particularly dark joke, but it illustrates the theme of Jewish humor borne of deep pain, and I share it for that reason:
During the days of persecution and poverty of the Russian shtetls, one village had a rumor going around: a Christian girl was found murdered near their village. Fearing a pogrom, they gathered at the synagogue.     Suddenly, the rabbi came running up, and cried, "Great news, everyone! The murdered girl was Jewish!"
Next we turn to Nazi Germany:
Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935, as the Nazis were beginning their rise to power.  “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you're reading [the Nazi propaganda newspaper] Der Stürmer! I can't understand why. It's a Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?” “On the contrary, Frau Epstein,” replied the rabbi. “When I used to read theJewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see things differently: the Jews control all the banks, we dominate in the arts, and we're on the verge of taking over the entire world. It makes me feel so much better!”
And finally to the American South:

Down South during World War II, an army sergeant got a telephone call from a local woman. “We would love it,” she said, “if you could send five of your soldiers over from the base to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. We'd love to host them.”  “Certainly, ma'am,” replied the sergeant. “Oh, one thing... just make sure they aren't Jews, of course,” said the woman.  “Will do,” replied the sergeant.  So that Thanksgiving while the woman was baking and getting the table set, the doorbell rang. She opened her door and, to her surprise and horror, there were five Black soldiers standing on her doorstop.  “Oh, my!” she exclaimed. “I'm afraid there's been a terrible mistake!”  “No ma'am,” said one of the soldiers. “Sergeant Rosenberg never makes mistakes!” 
One caveat about this redemptive potential of humor, as powerful as it can be, is that it has limits. 

To that point, Woody Allen is an insightful commentator. In a scene in his film Manhattan, he’s at a fancy cocktail party with a number of upper crust men and women -- presumably Jewish -- and the following scene unfolds:

“Has anyone read that Nazis are marching in NJ?!? We should go down there, you know, get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats, and really...explain things to ‘em.”
     A tuxedoed man, drink in hand, responds: “There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.”
     Allen interrupts: “A satirical piece in the times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.”
     Then a woman, dressed to the nines, jumps in: “Ah, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.”
     Allen again: “Come on, physical force is always better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with...shiny boots.”

Sometimes, he seems to be warning, persecution demands a response; sometimes, unfortunately, the use of force is required. Jokes can help us cope with anti-Semitism, and they may help us diminish our enemies' psychological power over us, but we can’t always simply hide behind humorous words.

*     *     *

We turn now to the second kind of redemptive humor -- making fun of ourselves. Here’s how Sigmund Freud explained it:
The occurrence of self-criticism as a determinant may explain how it is that a number of the most apt jokes...have grown upon the soil of Jewish popular life. They are stories created by Jews and directed against Jewish characteristics....     The Jewish jokes which originate from Jews...know their real faults as well as the connection between them and their good qualities, and the share which the subject has in the person found fault with...     Incidentally, I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.
(Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unsconscious)
I see a number of nodding heads... Yes, we Jews seem to have a talent or at least a habit of poking fun at ourselves. Consider these examples...

On the theme of Jews as cheap:
A Jewish man lies on his deathbed, surrounded by his children. "Ah," he says, "I can smell your mother's brisket — how I would love to taste it one last time before I die. Go downstairs and ask your mother to make a plate for me."
     So one of his sons hurries down to the kitchen, but he returns empty-handed.     "Sorry, dad,” he says. “Mom says it's for after the funeral."
On the theme of Jews as complainers: 
A Jewish man in St. Andrew’s Medical Center tells the doctor he wants to be transferred to Beth Israel hospital. After he’s transferred, the doctor at Beth Israel asks, "What was wrong at St. Andrew’s? Was it the food?"     "No, the food was fine. I couldn’t complain."     "Was it the room?"     "No, the room was comfortable. I couldn't complain."     "Was it the staff?"     "No, the staff was lovely. I couldn't complain."     "Then why did you want to be transferred here?"     "Here, I can complain!"
And even though I don't like Jewish mother jokes, I like this one...
Q. How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? A. (Sigh) Don't bother, I'll sit in the dark.
Here's one about the Jewish denominations in America:
A man goes to an Orthodox, a Conservative, and a Reform rabbi to ask whether he should say a b'rachah over a lobster.  The Orthodox rabbi doesn't know what a "lobster" is. The Conservative rabbi doesn't know what to say - he gets all confused. The Reform rabbi says, "What's a b'rachah?"
And one about Israeli drivers:
A Rabbi dies and goes up to the gates of heaven. Before he's let in, the angel in charge has to consult with God for a long period of time if he deserves a place in heaven. As the Rabbi is waiting, an Israeli bus driver approaches the gates of heaven. Without a second thought, the angel who was consulting with God let the bus driver through.     The Rabbi points at the bus driver and yells, "Hey! How come he gets in so quickly? He's a simple bus driver, while I'm a Rabbi!"     The angel explains, "Dear Rabbi, you don't understand. When you would give your sermon during the prayer services, your whole congregation would fall asleep. When this bus driver drove towards Tel Aviv, all his passengers would be at the edge of their seats praying to God!"
The most extreme example of this type of humor happened a few years ago. In the last decade, there have been a number of incidents of violence or threats of violence in response to cartoons satirizing Mohammed and Muslims. And about six years ago, an Iranian newspaper sponsored a “Holocaust Cartoon competition” to reward the best Anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying comics.

Two Israelis responded in a way that I felt exemplified the power of Jewish self-deprecating humor. They sponsored an Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon contest, saying:
We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published! No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!
So yes, I think Freud was right. There’s something embedded in our culture, or maybe in the collective memory of our people, that gets expressed in this perennial self-mockery. I think there is great strength in this. Exposing our faults makes them easier to name and therefore easier to face.

But it's more than that. A friend of mine once dated an Iranian woman, who knew little of Judaism. She decided to go to shul to explore it, and what day does she choose -- but Purim! So there’s this Iranian woman standing in the back when they tell of the Jews killing 75,000 Persians -- well, you can imagine how she felt.

And therein lies the most profound role that humor can play: it can help us re-imagine, reinterpret, and reform those violent tendencies within our texts and within ourselves that we would rather not let speak for us or guide our action in the world.

All of this to say... You really don’t want to miss our Purim spiel tomorrow night. Come and laugh with us -- at ourselves and at our foes -- and celebrate this community with joy and gratitude. And let’s also remember that the two-part redemptive blessing of humor -- directed inward and directed outward -- has the power to renew us in our role as a light unto the nations, and bring us closer to redeeming the world.


Friday, February 15, 2013

David & Ruth

Rabbi David Segal
Aspen Jewish Congregation
15 February 2013 • Parshat T'rumah

David and Ruth

The Jewish world lost a giant this past Sunday, when Rabbi David Hartman died at the age of 81, after a long illness.

He was best known for Shalom Hartman Institute (named for his father), which he founded in 1976 in Jerusalem. There he brought together Jews, Christians, Muslims -- and also (as one commenter said, maybe more impressively!) Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Rabbis for study and dialogue together!

Hartman grew up in a poor Hasidic family in Brooklyn, and he spent all the time he could immersed in Torah. He once said, “I was a good yeshiva boy until I started to read.” He developed a kind of love-hate relationship with ultra-Orthodox Judaism. He was a fierce critic, but his criticism came from being a fierce defender. For him, the two were inseparable.

In his theology, Hartman was fiercely pluralistic. “I’m fighting a war on the monopoly of certain people on truth, on the understanding of what Judaism is.” He pitted himself against Orthodoxy’s excessive fixation on authority, which he thought came from anxiety, not piety. He wanted to reclaim tradition, and to re-inject it with a spirit of open-ended experimentation. He said: “I don’t want order! I want vibrancy, passion, people to have a stake in it, lay claim to it, feel it’s theirs, it doesn’t belong to anybody else. There’s plenty of order in a graveyard.”

Family was at the center of Hartman's Jewish orientation; he was not focused on the individual Jew as much as the Jewish family unit, and the Jewish People. He saw the Shabbat table as metaphor: in his childhood, his father’s niggun (wordless melody) would set the tone, and they sit around the table, a family who fights and loves and lives together with vibrancy. He also spoke of the dignity of the Shabbat meal, even for a poor family:

“Shabbes turned a poor man into a dignified man who could sing... The tragedy is that the self-appointed carriers of the music, in between the fish and the soup courses of Shabbes dinner, are carrying stones to throw at passing cars, to build up an appetite for the chicken. And on the way, they are arguing about the halakhic implications of the size of the stones.”

Hartman was a storyteller and teacher, by nature. He once wrote:
“I realized then that my task was not to proselytize, but to counter indifference by cultivating an awareness of Jewish tradition as a theological and cultural option that commands attention, that cannot easily be dismissed. My years in the rabbinate taught me pedagogical empathy: a teacher must begin at the place of the students, listen before speaking, hear and share in the deep estrangement of Jews from their tradition - to enter that estrangement and to try to understand the roots of modern Jewish alienation” ("From Defender to Critic," xii).

Religion, he taught, should not stress what is forbiddenbut rather lovingkindness

In a speech called “Extremism trumping rationality in Modern world" Hartman said:
I joke that the only reason the mashiach has not come is that he wouldn’t have a kosher place to eat in. Wherever he would go there would be a group of Jews who would say that the place itself does not meet the highest standards of kashrut. Who would want to come into a world where you would starve to death? 

He was deeply worried that we’ve given up on the rational capacity of human beings to build a decent life. This presents a profound challenge to the future of the Jewish people.

All that said about Hartman's critique of Orthodoxy... as one of his students Yossi Klein Halevi put it, “Even as he challenged Orthodox Judaism to broaden, he challenged liberal Judaism to deepen.”

If we are to accept his fierce critique of Orthodox Judaism as too anxious about authority, too passionless and too exclusive, then we must acknowledge his critique of us as well. If we are to be authentic dialogue partners in shaping the Jewish future, then we must engage seriously with the ideas and behaviors of Judaism. If we assign ourselves, consciously or not, the role of casual observer, then that’s what we’ll be, and the future of Judaism will be guided by the extremists whom Hartman spent his career criticizing, even as he respected the depth of their engagement with Jewish tradition.

*    *    *

Hartman's legacy is alive and well today, and continues to inspire Jews of all kinds. One example of his influence appeared before the Knesset this week as a new member of the Yesh Atid (There is a future) party, which shocked the pundits by winning 19 seats in its first election. Her name is Ruth Calderon. Years ago, she founded a "secular yeshiva" in Tel Aviv -- think about that phrase for a moment. Last week she took the opportunity of her inaugural Knesset address to teach a little Talmud.
Rabbi Rechumei was constantly before Rava in Mechoza. He would habitually come home every Yom Kippur eve. One day the topic drew him in. His wife anticipated him: “Here he comes. Here he comes.” He didn’t come. She became upset. She shed a tear from her eye. He was sitting on a roof. The roof collapsed under him, and he died. (Ketubot 62b)
Calderon drew from this text a lesson for the modern state of Israel. It’s an allegory for the secular and religious Israelis -- the wife on the home-front, the great Torah Sage on the roof -- both of whom believe they are taking care of the home, both of whom feel that they bear a burden alone that the other is unwilling or unable to bear.

In her words:
Sometimes we feel like the woman, waiting, serving in the army, doing all the work while others sit on the roof and study Torah; sometimes those others feel that they bear the entire weight of tradition, Torah, and our culture while we go to the beach and have a blast. Both I and my disputant feel solely responsible for the home. Until I understand this, I will not perceive the problem properly and will not be able to find a solution...
Calderon goes on to thank her mentor, Rabbi David Hartman -- with his courageous commitment to an inclusive Judaism -- for opening his beit midrash to her, thereby opening the rich world of rabbinic debate which has made her a more committed Jew and a better Israeli.

And, as if scripted, during her teaching of the passage of gemara, a Shas MK (Sephardic Orthodox party), Yitzhak Vaknin, interrupted her -- not, as you might expect, to silence or harangue her -- but in support. “I think the idea she is saying is wonderful...” he said. And Calderon’s reply: “I am happy about this participation in words of Torah.”

As one of the online commenters said, “I don't understand how Moshiach did not come at this very moment. Beautiful.”

Near the end of her remarks, Calderon included this hope for the future:
I aspire to bring about a situation in which Torah study is the heritage of all Israel, in which the Torah is accessible to all who wish to study it, in which all young citizens of Israel take part in Torah study as well as military and civil service. Together we will build this home and avoid disappointment.
Through a new commitment to pluralism, Israel might avoid the tragic outcome of the Talmud story, where the roof caves in, all that’s left are ruin, death and grief. Instead, if we all embrace Rabbi Hartman’s legacy, and Ruth Calderon’s vision of a diverse but unified future, then our homeland -- the State of Israel -- will be stronger for it. And we Jews worldwide might become a more powerful force for good and truth, for lovingkindness, and for the greatest blessing, Shalom.

In MK Calderon’s final words of prayer for entering the Knesset (written by Chaim Hames), we conclude:
May it be Your will, Lord our God, God of our fathers and mothers, that I leave this house as I entered it – at peace with myself and with others.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Asking for Direction(s)

Rabbi David Segal
Aspen Jewish Congregation
Parshat Mishpatim • 08 February 2013

Asking for Direction(s)

I read an interview this week between the Atlantic’s James Fallows and Google’s Michael Jones, the Chief Technology Advocate. (Jones founded Keyhole, which put hi-resolution satellite images of Earth online and was acquired by Google to form the basis of what we now know as Google Earth, which 1 billion people globally have installed on their computer.)

The title of the interview is, “The Places You’ll Go,” borrowing from a beloved Dr. Suess book. It's a conversation about the future of digital maps. The biggest change in map technology is already here: personalized, customizable maps in the palm of your hand. You can zoom, swipe, and get directions anywhere you want to go.

Jones spoke also about what the future holds: that we'll have a wearable computer that will provide a “continuous stream of guidance and information, and no one else will even know you’re being advised.” Instead of walking around looking at our smartphones phones in our hand, there might instead be words or sounds in our ears, or visual cues projected onto our glasses. You'll feel, as Jones says, “Like a local everywhere you go!” Imagine a trip to a foreign country, where the street signs will be translated before your eyes.

And then there’s this smartphone app, Field Trip. You launch it on your phone and first tell it how often you want it to “bother you” (often, rarely, etc.). Then you just leave it in your pocket. And as you walk around, it will buzz and say things like,
A few hundred feet away is the best Pizza place in town...
or, You’re not far from a popular science museum in that direction...
or, “Around the corner behind you is where a scene from your favorite movie was filmed.”
Over time the app learns what you like, and so it gets better at knowing what to point out to you. It's like “getting to walk around with local experts who know your tastes, wherever in the world you go.”

This is all very cool, no question. It opens up the globe to us in radical and exhilarating new ways.

But it’s also a little bit scary, or a lot. And not in the sense that all those movies from the 80s and 90s, like the Terminator, would have us believe, that we are on the path to the computers becoming aware, and then evil, and then rising up to destroy us. It’s scary in the sense that we are becoming so irreversibly attached to our technology. Jones says that people’s IQs are 20 points higher because of Google search and maps, and that’s why we get upset when they don’t work, or give wrong information -- because we “feel like a fifth of [our] brain has been taken out.”

I see it in our b’nai mitzvah students, some of whom walk around glued to their phones like it’s an additional appendage. I see it in parents and friends who are paying attention to their smartphone rather than each other. If I’m being honest, I see it in myself, a little too connected all the time, a little too unwilling to disconnect.

But beyond these concerns, which you’ve probably heard me raise before, is another, more striking issue. It’s what we might call “false hope.” Toward the end of the interview, Jones says this about the power of the mapping revolution:

“No human ever has to feel lost again.”

I know he meant it in a strictly geographic sense, but it struck me as a sad overstatement of the power of technology. I believe we are too easily seduced by shiny, flashy objects, by the works of our hands. That’s probably part of why God in the Torah is so insistent that we not worship idols -- because we have an innate tendency to do just that. So my worry is that we start to worship this revolutionary technology, these works of our hands, and start to fool ourselves into thinking that they can not only give us directionsbut also give us direction, that is, purpose, meaning, guidance.

But they can’t.

For that, we must look elsewhere. And the Torah, and our tradition, is a good place to look -- as it has been for several millennia. Mishpatim, this week’s portion, is the first that is majority law, rather than story. And sometimes we think those portions are less interesting, or that we relate to them less. But these laws are precisely the life directions that I’m suggesting our tradition can provide.

We heard verses already tonight, chanted so beautifully, about letting your land go unsown every 7 years, so the needy may eat of it. We heard a command about Shabbat, that we rest so that our animals, and those who work for us may rest. There are laws about lending money, about fair payment of wages to workers, about fair treatment of strangers. There are rules about idolatry, about liability for damages, and there are also laws about celebrating Pesach. So it’s about justice and morality, responsibility and community, spirituality and family.

And of course our tradition demands interpretation, to apply it to our modern lives, but the core value is there, in that ancient text, offering us what even the “next big thing” in technology can’t provide: A guide to what it means to be human, a sense of where are you headed, and how to get there.

What it offers, if we are open to it, is direction.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Torah Study: Modern Jewish Thought

Rabbi David Segal • Aspen Jewish Congregation • 970-925-8245 x.1

Modern Jewish Thought
Thursdays* 1:30-3:00, January 10-April 18, 2013
@ Aspen Chapel, Basalt Library Community Room, and Online

In this 14-week course, we'll be introduced to the most influential philosophies of Judaism of the modern period. No prior knowledge of philosophy or theology necessary -- just curiosity and an openness to be challenged and challenge others! 

Registration: $54 covers the main textbook, additional handouts, and refreshments.
To register, call 970-925-8245 x.1 or email
ONLINE participation:, enter meeting # 192 543 805. Please email or call for the meeting password.

Session Topics and Readings 

*sessions are at Aspen Chapel unless otherwise indicated*
  1. JANUARY 10. Introduction: The Problem of “Jewish Theology”
    1. Choices, Preface and Part I Ch 1 (pp. 3-25)
    2. Choices, Appendix (351-353)

  2. Systematic Theologies: The Rationalistic Models
    1. JANUARY 17. Hermann Cohen’s Neo-Kantianism
      1. Choices, Part II Ch 2 (29-51)
    2. JANUARY 31. Leo Baeck’s Religious Consciousness
      1. Choices, Part II Ch 3 (53-73)
    3. FEBRUARY 7. Nationalism & Zionism
      1. Choices, Part II Ch 4 (75-97)
    4. FEBRUARY 14. Mordecai Kaplan’s Naturalism - @ BASALT LIBRARY
      1. Choices, Part II Ch 5 (99- 121)

  3. Systematic Theologies: The Nonrationalistic Models
    1. FEBRUARY 21. Franz Rosenzweig & Martin Buber's Existentialism
      1. Choices, Part III Ch 6 (125-142)
      2. Choices, Part III Ch 7 (143-165)
    2. FEBRUARY 28. AJ Heschel’s Neo-Traditionalism - @ BASALT LIBRARY
      1. Choices, Part III Ch 8 (167-184)

  4. Contemporary Theologies
    1. MARCH 7. Post-Holocaust Theology
      1. Choices, Part IV Ch 9 (187-220)
    2. MONDAY MARCH 11. Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy
      1. Choices, Part IV Ch 10 (221-248)
    3. MARCH 21. Jewish Mysticism
      1. Choices, Part IV Ch 11 (249-280)
    4. APRIL 4. Borowitz’s Postmodern Judaism
      1. Choices, Part V Ch 12 (283-312)
    5. MONDAY APRIL 8. Jewish Feminist Theology
      1. Choices, Part V Ch 13 (313-340)

  5. APRIL 18. Conclusions and Visions
      1. Choices, Part V Ch 14 (341-350)

Note: syllabus subject to change!
*No class March 14 - will meet Monday March 11 instead
No class MaRch 28 (during Pesach)
No class April 11 - will meet Monday April 8 instead




Suggested for Further Study

Friday, February 1, 2013

Two Times Ten?

Rabbi David Segal
Aspen Jewish Congregation
02 February 2013 • Parashat Yitro

Two times Ten?

Earlier this month, Roy Moore was reelected to the Alabama Supreme Court. You may remember him as the judge who commissioned a massive granite sculpture of the Ten commandments in the Alabama courthouse building.

The ACLU and other civil liberties groups sued, arguing that this installation violated the Establishment Clause, and they won. Moore refused to remove the sculpture, so he was removed from his post by Alabama’s judicial ethics panel.

It's fitting to talk about the Ten Commandments tonight, since they appear in this week’s parshah. Of course this is the first of two appearances, in Exodus and then later in Deuteronomy. And that leads to something too often overlooked in the public shouting matches over Ten Commandments displays. When someone argues that the Ten Commandments should or should not be displayed, we should ask: Which version of the 10 commandments? Exodus or Deuteronomy? Whose translation? And by the way, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish tradition differ in how they divide up and number the commandments.

My favorite example of the difference between the two versions of the Ten Commandments occurs in the command about Shabbat. In Exodus, it begins Zachor / "Remember" and in Deuteronomy it says Shamor / "Observe" or "Keep." 

But there’s more: the two versions differ significantly in the way they justify the Shabbat command. The Exodus version explains Shabbat like this:
For in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore ADONAI blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exod 20:11)
We are to observe Shabbat because God did. It is an affirmation of the spark of divinity within each of us.

The Deuteronomy version provides a very different reason. After commanding the observance of Shabbat, it says: that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and ADONAI your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore ADONAI your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
Here, we are to observe Shabbat so that those who work for us may rest. In this version, Shabbat is about justice and freedom, and it is linked to God the liberator, not God the Creator.

The Exodus version is about Creation. The Deuteronomy version is about Redemption.

Of course, both versions are relevant, and both are integral to our story and self-definition as Jews. The rabbis of the Talmud were fairly intellectually honest about textual complexities like this. They knew that there is a higher truth within dualities and apparent inconsistencies.

A case in point: We tend to picture the Ten Commandments as two tablets with five commandments per tablet. This is the common conception (unless you’re a Mel Brooks fan...)

But in a classic midrash collection (Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael), the majority of sages don’t share that view that we consider common today. They say instead: all ten commandments were written on both tablets. They don’t give a reason or explanation; I agree with Rabbi Daniel Lehmann of Hebrew College, who suggests that the two sets of ten written on the tablets represent the two versions in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Lehmann goes on to remind us of the midrash about God’s miraculous handing down of the commandments: 
It is in the nature of flesh and blood that he cannot say two words at the same time, but the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke the Ten Commandments all at the same time, as is said, “And God spoke all these words, saying [implied: at one time]...” (Exod 20:1).  (Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, Beshallakh, Shirata, 8)
In the rabbis' view, divine revelation is complex, multi-voiced, even pluralistic. Those who simplistically insist on displaying “The Ten Commandments” in public distort the depth and truth of Scripture. We Jews, as bearers of the rabbinic tradition, can be models and advocates for a different approach. We can celebrate the Torah’s complexity and reflect it in our own humility and inclusivity.

Rabbi Lehmann concludes his d’var torah by commenting on the typical Jewish choice of depicting two tablets of five commandments each:
Perhaps Judaism needs to re-imagine that symbol to reflect a profound principle of theological pluralism that lies at the heart of much of Jewish tradition. We could teach others through the symbol of 10 and 10 on each tablet that diversity, complexity and plurality are God's blessing to the world and a true gift of the Divine self...
As we sing each week in L’cha Dodi:
Shamor v’Zachor b’dibur echad / hishmiyanu El ha-m’yuchad“Observe” and “Remember” in one utterance / the singular God caused us to hear.
It's a paradox, perhaps, but it's essential Jewish wisdom that God’s oneness encompasses great diversity  of expression. It is kind of the reverse of our American motto: it's not e pluribus unum, "out of many, one" -- but out of the one God, come many possibilities and interpretations, many paths to holiness, and many ways to be a Jew.