We live in a deeply polarised time; an ‘us versus them’ environment; the complexities of life reduced to black and white, right and left. It’s become so difficult to reach out and explore the lives and loves of those who are different from us.
Our social media age doesn’t encourage diversity. Influencers and so-called nudgers are constantly surveilling and using our data to direct us. They reinforce our habits and our tendency to stay with the safe, curl up with the comfortable. We remain in our silos; separated and insulated from others and their opinions.
One of the most critical challenges facing us as a culture, if not a civilisation is to bridge the chasm, to resist the urge to merge with the same. It takes strength to reach out to a stranger, it takes courage to acknowledge the other, it takes integrity to respect another, it takes passion to stand up for them.
And that is what NAIDOC week (3–10 July 2022) is all about: get up from your place of comfort, stand up for those who are different from you, show up in practical support for them. A time to work for reform for the indigenous peoples of our continent.
It is one of the sad truths of our country that we have failed to recognise the history, culture and achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is one of the sad ironies of our culture that we have made the first peoples of this country into the other, the stranger, the dispossessed, the oppressed.
We Jewish people should understand this better than most. We know the agony of oppression and dispossession, of being made exiles in our own land.
Jewish tradition has us read a particular portion or parasha of the Torah every week. The lessons of these ancient texts speak to us so often in a contemporary voice.
And as I read the pages of this week’s Torah portion, it spoke to me with a peculiar and acute relevance. It is a story of revolt and revolution – and a few revolting revolutionaries! It is an analysis of equality and leadership, communication and kinship, popularism and the sacred place of holiness in our lives.
It is the tale of Moses’s worst nightmare – a charismatic figure and leader who challenges his leadership and questions his very integrity. The thrust of the story is that Korach the revolutionary is not really seeking a better of life for everyone but he’s motivated by his self interest, his ego and his thirst for power.
In the end Korach and his supporters don’t really care for the wider community and indeed for their own people. They get up only for themselves, stand up only for their interests, show up only for their own narcissistic goals. Some of them even refuse to engage with Moses when he tries to reach out, communicate with and understand them.
The lesson is clear: to be a richer human being, you need to be someone who reaches out with compassion and clarity to those who are different, to the stranger in your midst, to the lonely and dispossessed.