A Beautiful Technicolor World – Rabbi Danny’s Sermon

Posted on March 11, 2024

This past weekend we showed our children the movie the Wizard of Oz for the first time. We had been a little concerned about how they might react to a wicked witch and evil flying monkeys. But, we shouldn’t have been worried. First of all, they loved the movie; the songs, story, and performances definitely hold up. And, to children who have grown up with CGI graphics they were under no illusion that this was a fantasy, and that definitely removed any element of fear.

While they watched this classic, the thing that intrigued them the most were the initial 20 minutes when the movie was in black and white. On reflection, I don’t think they’d ever watched a black and white movie before – and they had questions. The one that has stuck with me was the question: “Was the world black and white back then?”

We of course explained that the world was not black and white, and shortly after they watched, mesmerized, as the transition to full color. The technicolor extravaganza of Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland had them completely hooked – it truly looked magical. And offered a stark and beautiful contrast with the black and white that had gone before.

While the movies that we watch have taken the cinematic process and color photography to ever greater heights, so that even Oz’s technicolor looks dated, we might be forgiven for thinking that we are the ones who are actually living in a world that is black and white.

We are living through a moment in history where it is “either-or,” “this-or-that,” “black-or-white.” There is no room for gray, no room for nuance, no room for complexity in. People are placed in boxes in what is presented as a binary sum game. We see this play out in the American political system where politicians will boo and shout not because they disagree with a policy, but because they disagree with the person saying it. We’ve lost the ability to reach across the aisle and to find commonality – not agreement on everything, but certainly not disagreement on everything.

Nowhere do we see it more than in relation to events in the Middle East. People seem to talk about the situation between Israel and Palestine as though they are talking about sports teams. You’re on Team Israel or you’re on Team Palestine – and these teams are presented as being the most bitter rivals and enemies that the world has ever seen. And one of the major problems with our black and white world is that if you’re on Team Israel then you are placed in a box and you are shut out of Team LGBTQ+ rights, you are rejected from Team Black Lives Matter, and you can’t be on the Team Caring for Immigrants amongst others.

In a rabbinic story we are told: “While creating the world, God consulted with Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace, asking – should I create human beings? Peace spoke up first. No, You can’t! There will never be Peace.  Mercy chimed in, ‘Yes, they will have so many opportunities to show their compassion.’ Justice agreed –some people will work for justice for their entire lives. Truth interjected: No! They will never find me. God didn’t know what to do.  The score was two for, two against. So God picked up Truth and hurled her toward the ground, where she shattered into a million pieces, how truth remains until this day.”[1]

There are different lessons that this story offers, but one that is clear is that there is not one truth, rather there are a multiplicity of truths. This is the Jewish idea of eilu v’eilu – both these and those. We read in the Talmud about a three-year argument between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai. They each believed they were right and the other was wrong, going back and forth in their vigorous disagreement. Finally, a voice came down from Heaven and declared: ‘eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim Chayim – both these and those are the words of the living God.’[2]

So here are a few of my eilu v’eilu’s for the current moment.

Eilu – the Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel; you dig up the soil and you find Hebrew inscriptions, our people’s history emerges from this place, we have always been there, and this is the only place on earth where we Jews are indigenous. V’eilu – and the Palestinian Arabs are also indigenous to the Land of Israel; there may never have been a nation formally known as Palestine, but the Arab population are equally indigenous to that place. The tragedy is two indigenous peoples sharing a rival claim to the same small strip of land.

Eilu – When I recently sat with a member of the US Armed Forces who studies the ethics of war, I felt compelled to ask him about his opinion on the Israel Defense Forces. He reassured me that as a war of counterinsurgency the IDF were doing the best that they can, even if it is not always perfect. And I believe that the IDF take precautions and measures that no other army would take. V’eilu – and yet I still believe that the scale of devastation and destruction in Gaza has been enormous. And I mourn for the loss of innocent life; it is a tragedy that innocent Palestinian men, women, and children have been killed as a result of this conflict. I can hold both of these truths.

Eilu – I wholeheartedly and unequivocally support the State of Israel; v’eilu – and I am less than enamored with various members of her Government and the policies they pursue. Eilu – I want the Hamas terrorist organization to be rooted out and destroyed; v’eilu – and I want the innocent Palestinian people to receive the aid and support that they truly need. Eilu – I daily pray for the return of the hostages and the removal of the terrorist threat on Israel’s border; v’eilu – and with these preconditions met I hope that there will be an end to this conflict. Eilu – I believe in the inalienable right of the Jewish people to have a State and a home in the land of Israel; v’eilu – and I believe in the right of the Palestinians to have their own state alongside her. The two state solution honors multiple truths in offering a resolution to the seemingly impossible situation we find ourselves in.

When did we lose the ability to hold multiple truths? When did our society stop permitting a nuance approach to questions and situations? When did we forget how to disagree on some issues, while agreeing on others?

I refuse to see the world as black and white and I refuse to live in a world that accepts the dichotomy of black or white. Our world has always been more than this. We Jews have never lived in the black and white, as a Jewish community we have always lived in beautiful technicolor. We are a people who have held multiple truths from the very beginning; we have always been “both-and.” Our symbol of God’s original covenant with all of humanity, after Noah and the flood, was a rainbow – a beautiful union of seven colors to create something that is so much more spectacular than the sum of its parts.

Humanity is supposed to be technicolor, it is not supposed to be black and white.

And so, I refuse to live in a world that is black and white. This means that even if I am not welcomed in – I will continue to fight for those things that I believe in. We did not join in the campaigns for civil rights, for LGBTQ+ rights, for immigrant rights so that they would stand up and support Israel or the Jewish community – although it would be nice – we joined those campaigns because we believed in those values, because we cared about those causes, because it was the right thing to do, the Jewish thing to do. And so, I will not allow them to exclude me – to reduce our world to black and white. I am proudly on Team Israel, Team LGBTQ+ rights, Team Black Lives Matter, Team Caring for Immigrants and many other Teams – whether they want me or not.

In the Wizard of Oz, the move from black and white to technicolor is a magical moment; in contrast, when Dorothy returns to Kansas, while there is joy at her homecoming, there is something sad about what has been lost and left behind. Technicolor is better than black and white on the movie screen, and it’s better in real life as well. We can be the technicolor people; reminding the world of the importance of nuance, the necessity of multiple truths, and that our world has never been and must never be reduced to black and white. Shabbat Shalom.

[1] https://lkflt.org/jewish-sensibilities/elu-velu/#:~:text=The%20sensibility%20of%20elu%20v,said%20for%20agreeing%20to%20disagree.

[2] Eruvin 13b