Tetzaveh: Call Out Culture
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the “call out” culture that has taken over our lives. For those that don’t know, (and I only learned the term for this a little while back), call-out means naming people publicly that you think have done something wrong. Basically, we call them out and shout their name and tell the world how wrong they are.
I don’t know anyone who likes being called out. Sometimes we do things that we think are just against the rules without realizing that we are actually hurting other people. In those moments when we are called out, we deserve it. It’s a reminder that we can do better.
But, when we create a culture of calling out, it rips up the fabric of keeping us together. We walk through the world just waiting to find other people in their worst moments. We wait excitedly looking at our phones just to see who is going mess up today or who is going to fall short of our expectations.
On a spiritual level, there are too many times in religious spaces where clergy call out congregants for messing up. I’ve met so many good people who feel uncomfortable in synagogues, temples, mosques and churches because they’ve felt called out and reminded of what is wrong with them and how broken they are. I’ve sat with too many people who struggle with themselves and feel no home in God’s house.
What if we flipped the script? And called out people, not for how they fail, but for how they succeed? What kind of world could religion build knowing that calling out someone could draw them closer and not farther away?
In the very first house of worship, the Tabernacle, found in this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh we find a different kind of calling out in the best way: God says to Moses:
“Go and call out your brother, Aaron with his sons, from among the Israelites to serve Me as priests…You shall you do to Aaron and his sons, just I have commanded you.” (Exodus 28:1, 29:35-37).
Essentially, God is telling Moses to call out Aaron and bring him to the God’s house to be the High Priest. Here, for the first time in the Torah, we are introduced to a new religious paradigm where it is not God, but Moses ordaining his brother. The process of ordination in Tetzaveh, begins much earlier, when Moses himself was once called out by God:
“Moses! Moses!…Do not come closer…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” Then Moses hid his face, for we was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:4-6)
This is the first time God speaks to Moses. God speaks and Moses hides. It’s terrifying to think what that Godly voice might first say about us, especially if we are called out for being bad or for reminding us of our mistakes. It’s no wonder that Moses hid his face – he’s been hiding his whole life from the moment he was in Pharaoh’s palace to the moment he struck the Egyptian taskmaster and ran away. Moses’s only move is to run and hide. So here, when God calls him out, he’s afraid and hides his face. Yet, Moses isn’t being called out for his mistakes or his fear. It’s just the opposite. God calls him into meaning and into purpose. God calls him out to be greater than he is. God calls him out so that he can begin the process of redemption.
This is what good religion is. It calls us out not for being bad, but for the goodness that is possible inside each and every one of us.
In the midrash, Moses feels God’s Presence and after overcoming his fear, he wants all of God’s attention. Moses says, “Here I am, ready for the priesthood and the kingship…God replied,”your children will not offer sacrifices, because the priesthood is for your brother Aaron…and the kingship is for King David.” (Shemot Rabba 2:13)
Moses is ready for it all, but here Moses is told that God’s relationship with the world is not through Moses alone. He tells Moses to go call out Aaron. Here in our Torah portion, Moses does just that. He prepares the way for his brother, and calls him out to be in service to God.
Later in the midrash it says that Moses calls out Aaron because Aaron rejoiced in Moses’s success. “Just as you rejoiced when I rose to greatness, so I rejoice in your greatness,” (Tanchuma Shmini 3). At the heart of religious call out culture is mutual joy. Instead of feeling joy when we tear each other down, we feel joy when we build each other up.
This is the kind of call out culture that we need. We need to throw away the culture that finds joy in another’s pain and hurt. We need to throw away a paradigm that judges others only for their faults. We need to learn what the Torah teaches us, that it is up to us, not God, to call out each other for our successes and to call each of us out to rise higher, be better, and find flourishing in each other’s eyes. This is why God told Moses to call out Aaron. This is your moment to be called out.
Your inspiration on the teachings of the Parashat this week of Tetzaveh is as usual so beautifully
explained. How timely.
Thank you ,Shabbat Shalom
Thank you for your comments and wisdom. I appreciate your willingness to always try to help us see things from a different vantage point. However, while call out culture may be harmful in our daily lives with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors since it replaces dialogue and decency that make up the ethical life, It seems that there may well be a place for calling out that you missed. I think we do need to call out injustice and hatred; we should call out corporate greed and rigging our electoral system; we should call out when two narratives and positions are presented as equal options (“Nazis and those against Nazis are both fine”). Where would the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement be if Rose McGowan and other brave women did not raise their voice to expose horrific, predatory, conduct by men. The power of naming is it gives us clarity that can help us shape our responses. To avoid naming a problem will lead to our inability to ever fix it fully and adequately. Finally, call out culture is specifically used to apply to calling out someone for perceived outrageous acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry. Oppressed and marginalized peoples do not always have a lot of tools at their disposal, and they unsubtle and subtle ways, but outrageous ways that majority cultures constantly oppress minorities makes it difficult and–quite frankly–rather inappropriate to tell the oppressed person to respond by lovingly drawing the oppressor in. This suggestion places all the responsibility for solving the hurt on the people who are most hurt and vulnerable and serves to let the victimizer off the hook. This seems more a solution to keep the status quo rather than moving it toward a better place. L’fi aniyut da’ati. Submitted with great respect for the social justice work you do, for the sensitivity you always show, and the Torah you purvey–including the wisdom that you offer in this d’var Torah.
JB thanks for taking the time to read my words. I’m touched that you would. I thought a great deal about your question before I wrote. I squished into just a sentence which means that I did not do it justice. I very much agree with you that naming problems is the first step to making justice. We call that “making pain public.” I guess I didn’t want to focus on that in this particular drash and wanted to keep it less political this time. In general, there is a difference between calling someone out and holding them accountable. I probably should have included more of that in here. Thanks again. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Farkas, I agree with what you said about calling out. I think especially in an age where youth is very stressed about both their and earth’s future, success is measured with billion $ and Harvard, it is very important for the adults to call out the youth, especially those from socioeconomicay challenging backgrounds, on their true accomplishments, no matter how small they may be. It is one step at a time. I think this will not only help build their confidence that they have a control over their lives but also teach mindfulness and the method to be happy. We try to do at at MiOra, the Nonprofit I am involved in (check out our posts on MiOra @Facebook or MiOra Connection @ Twitter and Instagram)