Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great teacher of Torah and our Jewish ambassador to the world of political activism, often taught that one must retain the ability to be amazed by the world.
He meant this both in the positive sense — radical amazement at the world’s mystery and beauty — and also in the negative sense: one must remain shocked at the human capacity for inflicting evil and suffering, in order to be able to act.
In this sense, our anger is not the problem but the catalyst for change. If you’re not angry, as they say, you’re not paying attention.
The very different sort of Jewish thinker, the more secular and more radical perhaps, Saul Alinsky said the first quality of a good organiser is anger. Anger and conflict are the driving force behind action for social change.
But many of us in this current climate are overwhelmed or stuck. Silenced, frozen.
If our anger is making us feel stuck, it may be because we’re isolated and alienated.
Heschel knew you needed to keep your sense of amazement at the world’s beauty — and the world’s evils — to move forward. Finding the community you want to be a part of can help.
Rabbi Akiva teaches in the Talmud that study is greater than action because it leads to action.
And this is the commandedness that one might say both Heschel and Alinksy saw as being at the heart of being a Jew – wrestle with the Torah and the world in order to push oneself into taking action.
You could go so far as to say that not taking action is failing one’s Jewish obligation in the world.
Or as my teacher Rabbi Shai Held has taken to saying – the more he learns Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the more he understands that inaction is not a possibility.
So where does that leave so many of us who just don’t know where to start?
The book of Deuteronomy, in God’s words, enjoins us not to fool ourselves into thinking that figuring out how to do what’s right, to follow this obligation to act in the world, is so mysterious or baffling or far away from us.
No, it is very near to us, the Torah tells us, in our mouths and in our hearts to do it.
That anger inside us at injustice isn’t the dangerous thing — being frozen or silent forever is.
Rabbi Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain