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Where Were You?

Written by Rabbi Michael Balinsky
March 19, 2015

by Rabbi Michael Balinsky
Originally published on August 16, 2012 in Rabbis Without Borders – My Jewish Learning
The first two weeks of August my wife and I visited the Canadian Rockies which are magnificent. Most of the time there was blessedly no cell reception so we missed hearing the news and receiving emails. It was not until we got to our hotel room late Sunday evening that we heard about the shootings at the Sikh center in Wisconsin. Before we left Monday morning for touring, I spent some time working on a visible response from the Rabbinic community in Chicago to the violence. All sorts of positive things have occurred since that time, even as some incidents have taken place at two mosques in the area and shootings continue in other parts of Chicago daily.
That Monday among the places we visited was a waterfall. After a short hike, we came to it. The paths get you really close to the falls and it was easy to get soaked from the spray.
I stood for a while just at the top of the falls overlooking the powerful streams of the water before they cascaded downward. For years, their power has cut new paths in the rock but these are hardly noticeable while it occurs. Come back in five hundred years and you can see the difference!
As I watched the surging waters, God’s words to Job came to mind: “Where were you when I made the foundations of the earth?”  To put it another way, I felt irrelevant. These falls were here long before I was born and will be here long after I die.
As I reflected more, I knew I could not dismiss the importance of who we are and what we do. But the experience did reinforce in me a need to cultivate greater humility. We do not have to relinquish our passions or belief. We do not have to give up our traditions and practices. However a genuine ethic of humility can allow us to stand with others. I may want you to believe as I believe, but I must make room for you to believe and practice as you desire. Your places of worship may be “other” for me, but I must allow them to stand.  This is more than mere tolerance, even if it does not reach the level of pluralism. If those of us involved in interreligious dialogue have something to offer, it might be how we model and act with humility toward each other.
Published with the author’s permission.