Hearing new voices, crying out to us


As I explained in our latest “Ask the Rabbi” video, Simhat Torah, the last holiday of the High Holiday season, teaches us that when we reach the end, we have to begin at the beginning, to listen once again to the teachings of Torah in this new year. The words of the Torah have not changed, but we listen this year with new ears and new hearts. We strive to hear what we have not heard before, straining our ears to capture the voices preserved in the text that have been crying out, unheard and unheeded, perhaps for centuries. Re-tuning our ears to hear those cries for justice and compassion, for respect and equality, for fairness and love, is crucial to moving forward the Jewish mission of “remaking the world under the rule of the divine,” the phrase we repeat multiple times each day in the Aleinu prayer.
In this moment, in these last few weeks, and especially in the last few days, we have heard just such voices crying out to us in the testimony of survivors of sexual assault, heartbreaking stories that demand our attention and our action. Far beyond the political stakes involved, the moral stakes for each of us and for our country are extraordinarily high. As members of a Jewish community, as students of Torah, and as human beings, we cannot allow these voices–and the many, many others we have not yet heard–to be disregarded, ignored, or pushed aside, and we cannot tolerate equivocation, rationalization, or blind ignorance from those who claim to be our leaders. We cannot stand by while the basic respect due to each human being and each person’s right to control their own body is violated again and again, by people of every age and station. We must listen, we must hear, we must believe, we must comfort, and we must act to remake the world into one in which the attitudes and actions that lead to such violations are never again tolerated. May our celebration on Simhat Torah also serve as a re-commitment to hear all of the voices pushing us to seek justice this year.