Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Shoftim

A Facebook “friend” challenged me over my affirmation that we needed to move and remove the Confederate monuments. He argued that these were a matter of heritage and that the rallies happened because people felt that they were being robbed of their heritage. I argued that many of the statues are not historical but were built in the 1960’s to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War (at the same time that South Carolina placed the Confederate flag atop South Carolina Statehouse). These “heroes” are traitors who fought to destroy the United States of America. Had the South won, they would not tolerate any statues of Lincoln. In the same sense, there are no statues of Hitler in Germany or (except in one small community) Mussolini in Italy. If this were truly about history and proud American heritage, when did defending a Robert E. Lee statue translate into “death to Jews?” He still did not understand.

Many in the march on Charlottesville said that they were not white supremacists or neo-Nazis. Ok. Then why did they stride arm in arm with those who were; side by side as the “real” white supremacists were screaming about destroying minorities and Jews? Why did they not distance themselves? Why were they also carrying torches next to people sporting swastikas? How are they not at least passively white supremacist? They defended statues to traitors who committed treason in order to rip apart our nation so that they could continue white supremacy (owning black people) No, people just don’t get it.

Racism is not a new problem in America. I co-led the march on Columbia, South Carolina in 2000 to take the flag down. It was, by law, only supposed to remain up there for one year. It is an oppressive symbol to minority communities, also American citizens, for it glorified a day when they were bought and sold … and abused as property. That is the message of “heritage” that defines their ancestry. Our march was 30 years later, and the law was changed to keep the flag up. The same people who yelled us that day, screaming “Heritage not hate” were screaming, “Off the dome and in your face,” when it appeared on a monument on the ground. The legislative history behind the law putting it up included horrific racist conversation in the open statehouse.

White America does not understand. It is not new; people have had enough. As hate crimes multiply threefold since the election, there is no suppressing a response. This heritage of being loathed and despised is not something one “gets over” simply because the law changes. The Confederate nation was an act of treason formed to protect the industry of slavery. Yes, that is an over simplification of the total story, but in its essence, the South fought to keep its slaves. Throwing that past reality in the present-day face of those whose grandparents were bought and sold is not something one “gets over.”With all of this madness swirling around us, once again, Torah speaks prophetically. This week, we read “Tzedek tzedek tirdoff.” Most people translate the phrase to mean “Justice, justice, you shall pursue it.” The “Scales of Justice” hang in every courtroom of this country. Justice gets dispensed every day. Often, the “justice” dispensed, while the best answer available to the jurist at the time, ends up being untenable, as we evolve. Our goal is the true definition of the word “Tzedek,” that is “Righteousness.” It is a far less tangible word, which is why it is so much more appropriate. Justice is a finite statement whereas righteousness is a continuing journey. Our system of justice once ruled that slavery was legal. Our pursuit of righteousness opens our eyes to worlds of understanding that we never knew existed.

Torah requires us to pursue growth and evolution of thought and faith (righteousness). Torah does not permit us to get stuck in yesterday’s best available answer, especially when lives and dignity are at stake. Our problem, on the right and left, is that people know what they know and are not even willing to think that maybe there is more to know. Truth is truth. We have to work hard to get past our own complacency and privilege to understand that there is more to know. We who have known oppression in history have a moral obligation to stand at the forefront of the change that this nation (world) needs to experience if we are ever to stop the violence that keeps us afraid. These prayers begin with our soul searching and our neighbor engagements.

Meet new people. Ask the tough questions. Listen to their answers. Do they bring peace or do they breed hate? This exercise is not about left or right because hate and extremism exist on both sides. This is about God. This is about us … all of us. Shabbat Shalom.