Friday, July 8, 2016

Revolution and Responsibility - On Parashat Korach, Elie Wiesel, and Facing the Violence of the Week - July 8, 2016 - Based on quotes from Elie Wiesel z"l

I have not lost faith in God.  I have moments of anger and protest.  Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason. 
When we look back on this week, what will we remember?   Will it be the death of Elie Wiesel?  Will it be a tweet that amplified a right wing meme with a star that was not a sheriff’s star, but an obvious Star of David?  Will it be announcements and congressional hearings focusing on the use by one American leader of an e-mail service while she held an office that required privacy and secrecy?  Will it be the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile?   Will it be the deaths of Dallas police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarippa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith?   Will it be the fact that Dallas police were positively monitoring a rally organized on behalf of community members decrying the killings of Sterling and Castile when a lone gunman took it upon himself to sow chaos upon the protesters and police?  This week, there is anger,  There is protest. There is fear. If anger, protest and fear are to bring us closer to God, we cannot allow those feelings to lead us towards hatred that could result in violence.   

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.  Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.
There is suffering and humiliation all around us.  We may have trouble, at times, identifying the oppressor or the victim or, in this case, the “good guy” and the “bad guy.”  Or, there may be no good guy, and no bad guy, just two people in an encounter which could be cooperative or confrontational. Each citizen, each law enforcement officer, makes that choice.   In the Torah reading for this week, Korach rebelled against Moses and Aaron, challenging the elevation of Aaron and his sons to priestly status while Korach, also a Levite and a relative of Aaron, was not satisfied with the holy and important tasks he was charged to fulfill in the worship space.  Dathan and Abiram also rebelled by  challenging Moses’ right to be a leader at all, seeing that the ultimate goal of entry into the promised land had not yet been reached.  These protests reflected arrogance in an attempt to to assert rights rather than to assume a partnership in bearing responsibility. All the Israelites should have been on the same side.  And so should we - all of us.  There are social boundaries in the United States that may seem like national borders at times.  Protection and safety should be a shared enterprise between law enforcement officers and citizens, where we mutually assure security and set aside suspicion because of race, or religion, or political views, or appearance, or supposed social status.   And we can only become partners if we talk to each other, get to know each other, and see how our interdependence could enhance the common good. 

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior.  All collective judgments are wrong.  Only racists make them.
This is one of Elie Wiesel’s most controversial statements, but it resonates this week.  No collective judgment of any group, any people, will help ease tensions in the current situation.  And, WE should make no collective judgment in the first place, because we know how it feels to be on the receiving end of such an attitude, where prejudice or misunderstanding can lead to hatred, violence and even death.   One element of this week’s tragedies is that certain individuals took it upon themselves to act out of fear, or a need for power or control, or accumulated anger. The humanity of their victims didn’t seem to matter. Losing that human element is a recipe for disaster and tragedy.   We, as Americans, as human beings, are better than that, but we can only be better than that if we recognize the divine spark in each person.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. 
The Torah tells us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor.  That can mean anyone, and not just in our neighborhood, or our city, but in our country, or anywhere in the world.   If there are ways to teach people how better to approach each other in difficult situations, where life and death could hang in the balance, let that training happen with a sense of commitment to an improvement in our community.  And if there are bridges to be built and programs to be created even through the efforts of regular people, let them take shape if it will mean deescalation of conflict and a retreat from the precipice of chaos. 

There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.  
We may feel like we have lost in the wake of tragedies that resulted from unfortunate choices of individuals who were driven by feelings that could not acknowledge the humanity of another person even if just for a moment.  What would winning look like? That triumph of the spirit is what Elie Wiesel attempted to accomplish throughout his life.  We win when we learn from the past, when we don’t repeat atrocities on a small or large scale, and when we look into the eyes of another person and see a life that deserves a chance to live and thrive.   And our work in the world must make living and thriving possible.  And if it doesn’t, it is time to speak up. 

Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God.  It is a gift only we can give one another.

Perhaps the centrality of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, coupled with prayers and teachings that direct us to work for peace, are, for us, a revolution of responsibility, with hope as its foundation.   If we didn’t have hope, why would we work for peace or equality?  Why would we combat anti-Semitism and all types of hatred that lead to violent acts?  So may we allow the hope inside of us to overcome fear, anger and despair so that our communities will find new ways to create cooperation, shared security and peace.  May this be our task, our revolution, and our path along which we will walk with God.

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