Two Branches, Two Invocations

This morning I had a double honor of attending and participating in two civic ceremonies: the swearing-in of our new Washington State Supreme Court Justices and the opening session of the Washington State Legislature.

In the morning, I was invited to share words at the Court, after three Justices, fresh off of their re-election, were sworn in. After remarks from Governor Inslee, each Justice was introduced, was administered the oath, and–after taking their seat on the bench–shared their own thoughts. I closed with the benediction.

At noon, both houses of the Legislature convened for the opening of the new legislative session. I was invited to share the opening prayer in the Senate.

It was an honor to attend both. Not only because I think that the spiritual and moral voice should have a seat at the table of our civic institutions, but also that honoring those institutions and their rituals and cycles of time is so important to the fabric of our democracy and society. When those are dishonored and break down, then we are in trouble.

Here are the words I shared at both events:


At the Washington State Supreme Court

On this day when across this campus our Legislature convenes for the first time this year, we honor and bless this Court, a reminder that while we as citizens empower our legislature to make laws, we also empower our Court to uphold our deepest values.

We are blessed that our system of government allows for the separation of powers, provides for the orderly execution of justice and establishes a dynamic system of legal interpretation.

In our Scriptures we read this verse: “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). What does it mean, then, to judge in righteousness?

The Jewish interpretive tradition understands this in a very specific way. In the Talmud, the great work of Jewish law, lore, and ethics, the ancient rabbis teach, “the court must ensure that there will not be a situation where one litigant is sitting and one litigant is standing, or a situation where one litigant says everything that they need to say and one litigant is told to curtail their statement.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shevuot 30a)

In other words, the pursuit of justice must itself be just. Those who come before this and any Court must be received in fairness, treated as equals, and given the same opportunities. May these justices, both returning and recently renewed, honor the inherent dignity and divinity of all who have business before this Court and all of the citizens of this great State they serve.

To you, our Justices, we seek blessing.

May you be deliberate in your process,

independent in your position,

open in your thinking,

mindful of your duties,

and both confident and humble in your decisions.


May you be blessed with wisdom and compassion, discernment and curiosity.

May we all be uplifted by your commitment to service and to the law.

May you judge in righteousness.

And let us say, Amen.


At the Washington State Senate

Earlier this morning, I had the distinct pleasure of offering blessings across the way at the Temple of Justice, as we honored the returning and renewed members of the Washington State Supreme Court, the interpreter of the laws. And now I stand before you, our representatives and legislators, who craft the law, the foundation of our society. You, our Senators who take our values, our ideals, and craft them into policy. To this body and all assembled within, as you begin again this most important work, we ask for blessing.

In the Jewish liturgical tradition, we read a section of our Torah, our Scripture, in order each week on the Sabbath. This week we read from the Book of Exodus in which the Israelites are led out of Egyptian bondage by Moses to the shores of the Red Sea. And at a time when it seemed all hope was lost, Moses raised up his staff and the sea split, “the waters,” as the text describes, “formed a wall on the right and on the left.”

If only the way forward was that easy to discern.

We no longer have a Moses to guide us. But the task ahead is the same.

You, our legislators—with your own staffs—are entrusted by us the citizens of this State, to create a path forward. Rather than walls of water, may you hold back scorn and stubbornness, pettiness and negativity.

May you, our Senators, find meaning in your work. May you face the challenge ahead to build a better society and State for all of its citizens with wisdom and courage, compassion and humility, discernment and curiosity.

As you work together, may you be firm in your convictions yet modest in your opinions.

May you treat each other with the respect befitting a fellow Senator and dignity befitting another human created in the image of God.

May you recognize compromise as a sign of strength, not weakness.

May you remember that in this chamber the words majority and minority refer only to a number of seats, not who has a greater claim to truth, commitment, empathy or justice.

And most of all may you be blessed with peace, a session of peace as you create peace for this great State and all who dwell within it.

And let us say, Amen.



“You Have Attained Your Position for a Time Such as This”: An Invocation

The invocation I delivered at the Washington State House of Representatives on March 6, 2018. You can watch the video clip here:

Last week Jews around the world celebrated Purim, a festival that commemorates the story told in the biblical book of Esther. In this story, Esther, a Jewish woman, becomes the Queen of Persia, and is forced to confront a difficult situation when the king’s counselor Haman initiates a plot to destroy the Jewish population.

Struggling with her desire to help her people and her fear of confronting the king, her cousin Mordecai encourages her saying, “who knows, perhaps you have attained your position for such a time as this.”

She then appeals to the king, exposes Haman, overturns the plot, and saves her people.

As we gather at a different time in a different place in a different seat of government, let this be our prayer:

You, the members of this body, duly chosen to be our representatives and lawmakers, have attained your position for such a time as this. May you respond to this call to meet the demands of the day.

To safeguard the residents of this state from violence, so that we all can be safe in our homes, on our streets, in our schools.

To look after the welfare of our bodies through access to health care, and the welfare of our minds through access to education and information.

To guarantee to those who struggle the basic human needs of shelter and food and clothing.

To ensure the integrity of our individual choices.

To welcome those who are new, or different, or from somewhere else.

To balance rights with responsibilities, liberties with obligations.

To protect our freedoms to, and our freedoms from.

And to create a state that is more just and more equitable, where we can live free from discrimination and hate, where all are honored and uplifted, celebrated and respected.

Ken yehi ratzon. May it be so.


“Thank you for the simple egg”: An invocation at the Washington State Legislature

On April 20, 2017 I delivered the following invocation in the Washington State House of Representatives:

Source of All Life and Blessing, thank you for this season.

We as a human family are witnessing the awakening of our world, as nature comes alive once again in spring. We delight in the buds on the trees, the opening flowers and all the new growth that surrounds us.

Last week Christians in our state and around the world celebrated Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Last week Jews in our state and around the world celebrated Passover, marking the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

Both of these festivals, while theologically different, capture the spirit of renewal and rebirth of the season. And while different, both share a common symbol, that of the egg. The Easter egg, and the egg on the Seder plate.

The egg captures the spirit of the season. Contained within its shell is the potential for new life. And its shell is strong, able to protect what lay inside, yet fragile enough to break when necessary, when that which is contained within is ready to emerge.

Let us remember at this season that we too are like an egg: strong yet fragile and the vessels for new life.

May we remember our strength: our ability to hold by our convictions, to support those more vulnerable, to champion that what must be championed, to resist that which must be resisted, to advocate for and demand not just what is but what could be.

May we remember our fragility: our ability as humans to be broken, which must guide us in how we treat one another, but also our ability to crack willfully, to open up our hearts and minds to new thoughts and new ideas, to be willing to be humble and vulnerable and know that we do not have all the answers, to accept compromise in order to advance the common good.

And may we remember our potential for new life: the ability to develop and champion a vision of what may be, to envision a state and a world of justice and peace and lovingkindness, and the power, especially invested in this body, to create new laws and new realities for the benefit of all.

Source of All Life and Blessing, thank you for this season. Thank you for the ability to celebrate our traditions freely and openly. And thank you for the simple egg. Which reminds us of our need to be strong when we need to be strong, but also our need to break when we need to break, so that the potential contained within us can develop into something new, and different, and better.

May all those who serve this body, and all those who the common good, find blessing in their work, and renewal at this time. May all of us be the egg.



Testimony on Religious Liberty

Last week I had the opportunity again (the last of this session, probably) to testify in front of the Washington State Legislature. This time it was in front of the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of Substitute Senate Bill 5173, which would create two unpaid holidays of faith and conscience for students and public employees. This is an important step for religious liberty, especially for Jews who have to continually negotiate to take days off on holidays. Here are my words:

Members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Rabbi Seth Goldstein, and I serve Temple Beth Hatfiloh, the Jewish community of Olympia, and I am also here representing the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the Jewish Coalition for Justice in strong support of SSB 5173.

As a member of a religious minority in this country, I recognize the benefit I have received from the right to religious liberty. This bill recognizes that along with the freedom of conscience that comes with that right of religious liberty, so too must there be a freedom to worship and celebrate according to one’s beliefs. Although religious liberty is guaranteed, its execution often runs up against practical difficulties, especially when holidays and celebrations conflict with the normal course of our civic life and calendar.

Jewish practice is based on a lunar calendar, so therefore in relation to our common Gregorian calendar, the Jewish festivals often fall on weekdays, and do not fall on the same (Gregorian) date from year to year.

In order to fully observe these holidays—and not every holiday requires a day off—students and parents must negotiate a day off from school, and others a day off of work. In my own experience as a congregational rabbi and as a parent of school-aged children, this sometimes goes smoothly, and sometimes does not. This bill will go a long way to not only protect those students and employees from what they then perceive to be discrimination, whether intended or not, and also educate people about faiths and celebrations different than their own.

The Jewish community, along with our Muslim brothers and sisters and others, do not seek any special considerations outside those granted to all—the ability to assemble and worship without fear of reprisal, punishment or being made to feel that our faith is inconvenient or second class. To that end I urge the support of SSB 5173.

Thank you.