Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Va-et’chanan

I turned 55 this week. I am blessed every day, even while now, as a waiter put it that night, I am now, “Double nickels.” At 55, I qualify to live in “Senior” living communities without needing to rely on Lori to get me in. At 55, I qualify for discounts when dining, shopping, seeking entertainment or education, and traveling. I can get into senior centers as a customer and not just as a volunteer. Even car insurance costs go down now! I even read once that turning 55 means never having to again be accused of being a child (but that really only applies to women … men are perennial little boys). 

It was with a great deal of joy that I got to celebrate this birthday with my mother; in the town where I grew up. Traveling home with Lori and Rachel for a few days allowed us to help mom with projects in her home, at the same time that it gave us some “downtime” together. All was good, until I read the news.

The stabbing of 6 people at an LBGT parade in Israel is a nightmare. That it was perpetrated by ultra-orthodox Jews makes it even worse. The amount of terrorism that happens at the hands of extremists is not exclusive to all of the people to whom we point fingers. The cartoon character Pogo once asserted, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” 

Yes, folks, Jews can be terrorists, too. We spend lots of time pointing our fingers at everyone else and somehow whitewash away what happens amongst our own. The number of stories of Jewish based violence continues to grow, even as we spend more and more energy on holding the rest of the world accountable.

My Jewish faith does not let me act this way. That the people perpetrating this violence call themselves Jews makes it ever more incumbent on me to call them out for the atrocities they not only commit, but also passively or actively support. This madness does not originate solely due to mental illness, unless religious fervor is mental illness. This affirmation transcends Judaism and holds true for all extremist takes on religion. 

Hate and extremism exist because sacred scriptures are mangled to promote behaviors that they could never support. No book is read in a vacuum; we read books in their entirety. “Proof texting” out pieces of stories for commentary affords a double edged sword. The process can give us the most profound of insights, while leading us, at the same time, down the darkest of paths. 

The practice of religion should lead one into a higher place in spirit than we would find lost in our basic animal instincts. Religion should help us makes spiritual sense out of the madness that exists because of the animal in each of us. Extremists bastardize this pursuit of value; twisting tradition to allow them to behave as the basest of animals. What happens at the hands of extremism is “pack” mentality, as the “alpha” leaders direct their minions to destroy any force of nature that gets in the way of their pursuit for or maintenance of personal power.

The only power that religion is supposed to give us is the power to overcome our animal in the pursuit of a more healthy / holistic approach to engaging the piece of divinity in everything that stems from the same “Creative Force.” Any act that destroys another piece of God roots not in faith but in fear; not in reason, but in fear; not in love, but in fear. Fear leads us to the basest of behaviors in which there can be no healing salvation. 

It is time for all people of every faith to emulate a “Creative Force” that created all of us … equally. I do not know how we can pray to God for peace, for healing, for strength, or for faith, and stay silent in the face of the ugliness that calls itself religion. Specifically, Jews have to stop pretending that terrorism is something that only other extremists do.

My greatest prayer on this birthday week is that next by the time my next birthday rolls around, we have moved forward in ending the madness that pulls us apart. I pray that we learn to engage each other in ways that helps us grow the world and not destroy it. I pray that we open our eyes to the blessings available to all who engage in love and in joy, that birthdays become only one day of 365 that see us celebrating that we are here … together.

This week, we read the words, “Shema Yisrael – Pay attention people of faith.” The words that follow call on us to love our Creator with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our spirit. Religion should teach us that the only appropriate way in which to understand this text is this, “Love God by loving all that God created.” Anything short is blasphemy. Shabbat Shalom.