I don’t typically give a sermon on a Friday night when we have a Ma’ariv Family service. I feel, however, the need to address the horrendous attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which had tragic consequences. It was a hate crime of the same caliber as the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a few months ago.
Families attend the family service with their children. It is a happy occasion meant to highlight the wonderful accomplishments of our students and spotlight their potential leadership. The Torah consistently mentions “L’Dor vaDor”, from generation to generation to remind us that these are Judaism’s future leaders. It is up to us to impart wisdom and knowledge of our culture so they can carry on.
How, then, do we frame this horrific event against the backdrop of innocence? Do we ignore it and save it for another time in the future when they are older and perhaps better able to process something like this? Do we start early to make sure that they are prepared to live in a world where sometimes hate rears its ugly head? Since we are living in a world of media-frenzy where no one can escape the inevitable influence of the 24-7 News cycle do we try to head it off at the pass so we can control the flow of information and frame it the most productive light?
As a rabbi, I have embraced the idea of providing the best spiritual inspiration possible. We face many day-to-day challenges during the week and when Shabbat arrives, we want to put on our best clothes and most positive demeanors and just enjoy peace. I also feel that it is my responsibility to address this and put it into perspective to help all of us deal with it.
First of all, let me echo the sentiments of other rabbis around the world and the Anti-Defamation League that I also “condemn this devastating attack, which has no place in society. When one faith is under threat, every faith is under threat”. This attack underscores that we all, all of us, Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, everyone, has to come together and denounce this bigotry. We must stand in solidarity to respond and to heal.
This may bring up another question. How do we reconcile our empathy to the innocent victims of this attack with the recent spates of anti-Semitism? The UN has been for years attacking Israel and Jews with its monthly issues of resolutions against Israel. Many countries around the world have called for censure of Israel for protecting itself against unprovoked attacks.
How do we reconcile our heartbreak for these people who’s only crime was observe their Sabbath against the recent anti-Semitic remarks by two Muslim women who are now sitting US Congresswomen? These two women, as well as a third who openly supports BDS, have made their share of statements that recall the age-old tropes against Jews, how we secretly rule the world by buying the favor of politicians. It is, to invoke Martin Buber, a narrow ridge.
We must therefore separate ignorant individuals from philosophies. It is tempting to slip into prejudice and proclaim that Muslims in general have the same agenda as these two women. We have to fight that evil inclination and remember our Jewish values, to befriend the stranger and love our neighbors as ourselves.
But we must also be vigilant. This Shabbat is “Shabbat Zachor”, the Sabbath or remembering. We are commanded to remember the wanton attacks of Amelek that would attack the women and children of the Israelites as they marched through the wilderness. This special Shabbat comes the week before Purim. The sages said that Haman was a descendent of the Amelikites and his hatred of Jews was in his DNA.
While we remember the aggression of the Amelikites, we must learn from their bigotry and rise above it. While we take care to know our enemies and act against them, we must balance this with our innate love of humanity. We must honor HaShem by honoring all his creatures but we must also protect ourselves as well.