Off the Pulpit

You Are Not Your Group

The Rabbis ask — why is God said to love the righteous? Because their worth is due neither to their heritage nor to their family. Not anyone, they goes on to explain, can be a Priest in the Temple or a Levite, but anyone, Jewish or not Jewish, can be righteous and therefore loved by God (Num R. 8:2).

This may be the crucial Jewish teaching for our time. The deep premise of identity politics is that your group defines you. While Judaism certainly understands that being a Jew is part of what makes us who we are, it is also true that the quality of goodness stands apart. Goodness is the quality beloved of God.

The line between good and evil does not run between countries, peoples or tribes. It runs through every human decision in every human heart. Those who hate could choose love; those who are cruel could be kind; those who are wicked could be righteous. This Jewish teaching finds its echo in the best of America, a country where each person has the right to be judged on his or her own merits. A human being is never a type or a group, but a unique image of God.