How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling-places, O Israel!
Jewish daily morning prayer opens with these words that transformed the prophet-for-hire Balaam’s intent to curse the Israelites into an eternal blessing for the people. Recognizing and affirming the beauty and sanctity of the community and all its members is a standard we have strived to achieve throughout the generations. It takes compassion, generosity of the spirit and a true concern for our fellow human to overcome those obstacles – racism, misogyny, bias of all types – that have diminished some in the eyes of others.
This morning, we were woken to the news that the Supreme Court, ruling regarding same sex marriage, had relied upon upholding the 14th Amendment (which asserts equal protection under the law) to safeguard marriage equality. In closing the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote these words, which are already receiving much-due attention for their content and eloquence:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
In recent memory I don’t think read a more “Jewish” plea for social justice and civil rights than these words today. Yes, ours remains a culture that is challenged by a range of social ills from poverty and homelessness to inequality of pay. Today’s decision by the Supreme Court renews hope that our society still has what it takes to mend the world’s brokenness, and that the “American dream” is within reach of all.
Mah tovu – today our tent got a little wider, and a little more beautiful.