Only seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. That reminded me of the passage in the Book of Genesis (18:16-33) when Abraham argues with God: "Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?” Should God really destroy all of Sodom for its sin of hating foreigners? What if there were decent people among its citizens who will die in the disaster? Abraham starts, “What if there were 50 decent people; would that be enough to spare the city?” God agrees to refrain. What about 40? 30? 20? 10?
And then Abraham stops. He doesn’t ask God to save the city if there were seven decent citizens, or five, or one. Why not? Because Abraham and God both know it takes at least 10 people to transform an evil society for the good. Ten who will have each others’ backs, ten who will hold and heal each other when they are wounded, ten who will love each other, ten who will protect each other, ten who will help each other speak out against tyranny.
There were not ten Republican senators to stand together, and their absence portends the ruin of their party. May God grant its ruin will not bring down fire, flood, and famine on our lovely and beloved planet – – as Sodom went up in smoke.
The Torah portion this Shabbat (Terumah, Exodus 25-27) describes Moses on the mountain listening to God describe the portable Mishkan or Shrine of the Presence that the Israelites would learn to carry in their journey through the wilderness. When Moses cannot quite understand the description given in words, God provides the first Power Point, showing pictures of golden implements, scarlet and purple hangings, the details of its beauty.
The people themselves were to gather, to sew, to smelt, to tie the pieces together with grommets, to untie and retie them when the Shrine of the Presence needed to move.
For years, it seemed to me this was an overdoing of sacred Art. And then a member of my congregation came back from the first Gay Pride gathering in Washington DC. She described how thousands of people had sewn thousands of squares of cloth in gorgeous color or black mourning, each remembering someone who had died of AIDS, each with grommets at its corners to tie one square to another when the gigantic Quilt was ready for display, ready to be untied when the Quilt was ready to be moved to some new city.
The word "grommet" transfixed me. The Quilt was a Mishkan, a Shrine. The Mishkan was a Quilt. Each was the first defiant acts of beauty of people who had been closed in, in narrow slavery; of people who had been closed in, in narrow closets. The Quilt, the Mishkan, were triumphs of liberty. Each was portable, meant to be carried to those who had not yet heard the message: Freedom! Joy, even in the midst of sorrow. Beauty!
The abence of ten made disgrace, threatened ruin. The Presence of thousands made beauty and freedom. Each a lesson for our time.