Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Today, at the invitation of Dr. Theresa Daniel, County Commissioner, District 1, and MDHA board member, I was honored to deliver the invocation at the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting. Here is what I shared with them:

I wanted to thank Dr. Daniel for inviting me to give the invocation today, but more than that, I wanted to thank her for her ongoing passion and dedication in standing up for our homeless brothers and sisters. 

Thinking about homelessness in Dallas, I was reminded of a fascinating thing the Bible tells us about a legendary artifact shrouded in mystery, the Ark of the Covenant.

Now, if you have seen Indiana Jones (spoiler alert), with all the great special effects, we never really get to see too much of what is inside the Ark. 
Fortunately, the Bible gives it away. Among the objects in there, the two most prominent were the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. But wait, did I say two, or perhaps four… Because, according to the Talmud, both sets of tablets, the ones Moses breaks, and the replacement set God gave him, were housed in the Ark

(As an aside, here Moses teaches us, that like every smart Jew, you should always take out a warranty. You just never know!)

Now, the Ark eventually disappears from the biblical narrative. Hence, both the Ancient Rabbis, and their modern co-religionist, Steven Spielberg, get to imagine what happened to it. Let's take that one step further. 
Imagine YOU get into the huge warehouse that is shown in the last scene of Raiders. You find the Ark and the contents we have spoken of, the two sets of the Tablets, broken and whole. You are obviously excited. This easily would be one of the greatest findings in human history. And as befits any such event, you hold the inevitable press conference. 

Now, strain your imagination to the absurd. Imagine a reporter asks, "Hey, I get that the whole tablets are important, but who cares about those broken tablets? We should just toss them, and they definitely should NOT be housed in the Ark." What would be your reaction?

Well, if it was me, after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I would explain that both sets of Tablets would equally be among the two most cherished findings in human history. These are not just stone tablets. These are THE tablets. And that it is why, as the Ancient Rabbis remind us, לוחות ושברי לוחות מונחים בארון, the whole tablets AND the broken tablets are both housed in the Ark. 

This serves as a great metaphor for homelessness. The history of the modern homelessness crisis has seen two major approaches to solving this societal ill. One, often referred to as "housing readiness", implies that if you are homeless, there is something fundamentally broken about you. You, therefore, must be made whole again first, through a lengthy, demanding, complicated process. Only at the end of this process are you deemed worthy of housing. Clear evidence has shown that this approach does not really work for most people, yet it persists. Old habits die hard. 

The second approach is referred to as "Housing First", and it is rooted in the philosophy that everyone is fundamentally worthy of housing, as a basic human right. It favors housing the homeless as quickly as possible, with two conditions only, abide by your lease, and meet regularly with a case manager. It offers wrap around services, so the housed individuals can address whatever brokenness they have, whatever challenges they are dealing with, at their own direction. Clear evidence has shown that this approach really works for most people (in Dallas, it has a 95% success rate), and so it has been embraced by the consensus of scholars, the Federal Government and local governments across the country. 

The message of the legend of the Ark is instructive in this sense. It reminds us that whatever brokenness might manifest, the whole tablets AND the broken tablets are housed in the Ark. Yes, even the broken ones. They too are worthy. 

That's a good thing, because do you know who else is broken? I am and you are. The wholeness of the other set of tablets is just an aspiration in human life. We are all, each and every one of us, in our own individual ways, broken. And yet each one of us, housed and homeless, rich and poor, materially successful and those that are not, deserve the same basic dignity, a home. שלוחות ושברי לוחות מונחים בארון, for the whole tablets and the broken tablets are both housed within the Ark. 

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