When the sun came through my window yesterday morning, I opened my eyes and forgot for a second where we were, in space and in time. It was a seemingly ordinary morning: my kids were ferrying their toys in and out of my bedroom as usual, begging to use the computer or the phone, as usual, and howling for breakfast, as usual.
But then, the sense of the ordinary vanished, as my children remembered the wild excitement and giddy anticipation of the day before, and all the animated talk of history-in-the-making and transformation and possibility: “Who won the election, Mommy?!” they asked, so hopeful it actually hurt to listen to them.
And when I answered, “Donald Trump,” without feeling or fanfare, I could hear their collective gasps and could see their eyes widen with disbelief.
“What? No. No. No way!” They pushed back, as if to let me know that history couldn’t unfold that way. They were so genuinely astonished, so taken aback by the sudden turn of events. As much as we never expected this outcome (not in a million years), neither did they. Seconds later, they were purging their incredulity with question after question after rapid-fire question.
“How could this happen? What will we do? Why would people vote for someone who has said such terrible things? Is it OK for such a mean man to be president?”
They wanted to know and understand how we got to this place, and how a man who has practiced such hatred and spewed such venom could possibly serve as our president. All of their questions were valid, and every worry was undeniably legitimate. They had every right to ask these questions, and every right to protest this unimaginable state of affairs.
But one question stood out among the rest: “Donald Trump said he would deport people who were different from him—what will happen to our friends? What will happen to us?” My kids were scared. They were really, really scared.
And as I sat and listened to them, wishing I could magically heal their pain, and praying I had the mettle to guide them through this tectonic shift of power, I searched my mind for something, anything, I could impart to assuage their fears and affirm their sense of justice.
“Do you remember when Abraham questioned God at Sodom?” I asked. They nodded. “And Abraham bravely stood up to God—GOD!!—in order to save the people of Sodom from destruction?” They remembered. “Well, we need to be like Abraham today. And tomorrow. And every day thereafter.”
First, like Abraham, we have to stand up for what we believe in. Always. Always! Abraham believed that the people of Sodom did not deserve to die, and so he went toe-to-toe with God to argue the case on their behalf. It doesn’t matter if we are standing up to our friends or our boss or even the president of the United States, we must stand up for what we believe is right and just and moral and good. We cannot waiver, not in the face of intimidation, not in the face of trepidation, not even in the face of fear.
Second, Abraham believed in the goodness of people. He saw what God had in store for the people of Sodom and he screamed injustice. Abraham understood that, at our core, we are all made betzelem elohim, in the image of God. Each of us, no matter our gender or our race or our class or our history, is worthy of love and attention and care. Each of us reflects the spirit of the Divine and therefore each of us is extraordinary.
Third, Abraham was brave enough and principled enough to take up the cause for every soul in Sodom, when he just as easily could have argued for his nephew alone. He didn’t have to argue with God on behalf of this “other” people. He didn’t have to worry about their prospects or their well-being. Abraham didn’t have to worry about the Sodomites at all. And yet, he chose to fight for these people, because the Sodomites, some righteous, some not so righteous, were not so different from everyone else, and therefore, not so different from Abraham either. He saw himself in their struggle. He saw his life in their lives. Even though God singled out the Sodomites in the story as evil, Abraham saw their humanity and their dignity and demanded that God let them live.
Abraham was one of our first giants of social justice, and every day, we carry his legacy of speaking out, standing up, and staying true to what we know is right. So when Donald Trump denigrates or debases a woman or a disabled person or a member of the LGBTQ community, or when he threatens or disparages someone who is Muslim or African-American or Hispanic, we cannot stand idly by. We have to be courageous and rise up. We have to speak out for fairness and compassion. We have to remember the stranger in our midst, because we were once the stranger, and we may yet be the stranger again.
Do you hear what I’m saying, my loves? We will always stand up against racism, sexism, bigotry, and baseless hate. We will always stand with our friends, our neighbors, and our community. We will always stand up for ourselves. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s scary. As Jews, we have no other choice.
And then, on this not-so-ordinary morning, I grabbed hold of my kids, my Abrahams-in-training, and hugged them, each hopefully knowing that I would stand up for them to anyone, anywhere, any time.