Repairing the Fallen Walls: What Isaiah 58 Means on Yom Kippur 5778

September 27, 2017Rabbi Fred Guttman

On Saturday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews will fast all day and read a passage from Isaiah 58. The passage seeks to inspire the Shavay Zion, those who had returned from Babylon to Israel, to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem, walls which had been destroyed by the Babylonians.     

People from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
You shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”

Friends, the walls seem to be falling and they seem to be in need of repair. With every tweet, the walls that protect us from bigotry and hatred crumble. With every tweet, the walls that keep in civility are damaged.

As a rabbi, it’s important that I stress the task that lies ahead of us if we truly desire to become “repairers of fallen walls.”

Now more than ever, we need spiritual voices of all faiths teaching us messages of justice and compassion. 

From a Jewish religious perspective, repairing the fallen walls means assigning highest priority not to profits or personalities or popularity, but to people and principles and outstanding performance.

Repairing the fallen walls means opposing attempts to undo the progress toward civil rights made during the last 50+ years and opposing a political system that seems intent on rewarding those who are filled with bias, bigotry, and racism.

Repairing the fallen walls means opposing the racists and anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville. The tragic events in Charlottesville have shown us that the ideologies of Nazism and radical hate groups are very much alive in the United States today. Here, I want to be absolutely clear: There is no form of moral equivalency that can downplay the severity of the history of Nazism and the spread of neo-Nazi ideology.

Repairing the fallen walls means fighting prejudice against people who are of a different religion, a different sexual orientation, or a different nationality.

Repairing the fallen walls means stopping the psychological threats against 800,000 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and working toward comprehensive immigration reform and security.

Repairing the fallen walls means we cannot be indifferent as schools are resegregated, not necessarily according to race, but according to economic class.

Repairing the fallen walls means not being indifferent as income inequality continues to grow and the gap between the haves and the have-nots increases.

Repairing the fallen walls means opposing the loss of health care coverage to an estimated 32 million people because of political machinations and greed.

Repairing the fallen walls means caring as much about poverty as we do about prayer, as much about our need for better schools, better jobs, and better neighborhoods as we do about bigger prisons, tougher laws, and lower taxes.

Repairing the fallen walls means taking a stand for justice. 

Repairing the fallen walls means that government rules with real compassion, not some imagined theoretical constructs called like the so-called “trickledown economics” or the current efforts toward tax reform, which, in effect, hurt the poor and enrich the already wealthy.

Repairing the fallen walls means demanding a fix for the Voting Rights Act and demanding an end to gerrymandering through the establishment of nonpartisan commissions to redraw districts.

Repairing the fallen walls means that, once again, the United States will become a global standard-bearer for human rights. America must neither deploy a misguided understanding of history nor abdicate its responsibility to stand up to all forms of hatred and bigotry.

Repairing the fallen walls means exerting our influence through our values, rather than our military might. It means protecting our county with the use of force only when necessary rather than the prosecution of wars of choice.

From a Jewish religious perspective, repairing the fallen walls means taking climate change seriously. 

In essence, repairing the fallen walls means a willingness to stand by what is right and just, however risky it may be – and not by what is convenient and expedient, however safe it may be.

May 5778 be the year we repair the fallen walls.

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