Sermon from Rosh Hashanah 5778

So today I thought I’d talk about the concept of the klutz kasheh. This is a Yiddish term which literally mean a ‘klutzy question,’ or a ‘silly conundrum.’ The great Jewish tradition of grappling with silly difficulties goes back to the Talmud, where the Sages liked to pose unlikely, seemingly ridiculous problems to each other. A classic is one where someone poses the question, “A person with two heads, does he put tefillin on one head, or both?”

A favorite from medieval Jewish tradition was the question of whether, being short a tenth person, could a golem be counted in a minyan for public worship. These are indeed silly questions, pointless questions, but there are surprisingly profound implications to them. In each of these, the underlying question is, what makes a person? Who is a Jew?

This year a colleague posted online this question. God forbids Jews to write or complete a task during Shabbat or a major holiday, yet on Rosh HaShanah, we say that God “Writes” in the Book of Life of RH and “Seals it” on YK. Is God bound by the rules God imposes on us?

That’s not just silly, that’s fun. So my colleagues and I earnestly tried to solve this dilemma. But someone offered the correct solution. Getting written in the Book of Life, she noted, is a matter of puach nefesh – of preserving and sustaining life. As such, all other rules are put aside. When life and death are in play, any lesser concerns are negated.

We Americans also face a klutz kasheh of life-preserving import – ‘Is a Dreamer an illegal alien who needs to be expelled, or an American in every respect except their passport?’

Remember, the definition of a Dreamer is not someone who entered the United States of their own volition, but a child who was brought here. As minors, they didn’t have the capacity to consent or fully grasp the legal ramifications of coming to this country without permission. They just live here, are educated here, and work here. Most of them do not really know the their legal nation.

But now the Dreamers, who have been stuck in a klutz kasheh, a bizarre legal limbo, a Catch-22 from which they have no lasting escape, for the past 16 years, are in danger of being expelled from the only country many of them know, and sent to places that mean little or nothing to them.

800,000 Dreamers face the prospect of being driven from their homes. This is a problem with many hands in the making. If you want to blame President Obama for exceeding his authority on this, fine. If you want to blame President Trump for cruelty in rescinding their deferments, fine. If you want to blame President Bush for kicking the can down the road to us today, fine. Blame Congress. I don’t care. What matters, from a Torah perspective, is finding a compassionate solution.

That’s because, right down to my kishkes this strikes me a Jewish problem, something that demands a mitzvah, a situation that demands a Jewish response. So many mitzvot, so many divine commandments in our sources, tell me this matter is a matter of Torah. I could quote every verse commanding us love the sojourner, not oppress the sojourner among us, to legally protect the sojourner, but I won’t waste your time. I will cite just two:
Deteronomy 24:16 – Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
Ezekiel 18: 28 – The child will not share the guilt of the parent.
This is the essence of the matter for me, the crux of my understanding that the fate of Dreamers involves us in essential Jewish values.

So here, today, after 18 years of not telling you what you should or should not do, not trying to push to toward a specific political policy, or telling you how to vote, I want to cash in my 18 years of good will from you. I am asking you to take a position, to act on that position. I truly believe this is not partisan or political. It is a matter of Torah.

There is a fix. Congress has a little less than six months to legislate a solution that will keep dreamers in their in their jobs, in their schools, in their homes, in America. For the next few months I intend to press (maybe ‘barrage’ would be a better word) Sen. Cruz, Senator Cornyn, and Rep. Burgess with pleas to secure the future of dreamers here in America, once and for all, with finality. And I’m asking you, I’m calling on you, to do the same.

Whether you are Republican, Democrat, independent, Green, or Libertarian, there are leaders of your persuasion working on this. The problem is that we live in a political atmosphere of so many, many distractions and distractors, I fear this matter will be left unaddressed while we fret and fight over North Korea, disaster aid, health insurance, and the latest Twitter kerfuffle. We need to keep this matter in the forefront of their efforts.

I think you believe compassion is an American value, and certainly a Jewish value. So I ask you to join me in a concerted effort from now until March to help these young people – students, soldiers, volunteers, young professionals, young achievers – to find a secure place in the country they know best, I dare say, the country they love as much as we do.

In addressing the klutz kasheh of the two-headed person, the Midrash claims King Solomon resolved the question by pouring hot water on one of the two heads. When the other head cried ‘ouch,’  he declared them one person, requiring only one tefillin. He recognized that while they may seem, at first glance, to be separate and distinct because of the different heads with different minds, and different opinions, they are really connected once you get past those ‘head-issues.’  So it is with us and Dreamers. Below the level of ideology, we can feel their pain, and we know what needs to be done. As Jews, and as Americans, we share too much with them, to simply disregard and discard them as if they are not, have never been, part of us.

I have no doubt, taken as a whole, these 800,000 people will bless America, if we deign to bless them with permanent residence among us. Fixing this makes America better. It makes us better, and it fulfills the God-given mandate, love your neighbor as you love yourself. I hope you will join me in the coming months.

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