Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayikra

Tonight begins Shabbat Zachor. This is the Sabbath of Memory – the Shabbat just before Purim. On Purim, we will retell the story of the Book of Esther. We will read about how a young Jewish maiden became the Queen of the Persian Empire. We will read about an evil Court official wanted to destroy the Jewish people for not bowing to him. We will read about acts of aggression and acts of defense. Along the way, we will have to wrestle with the realization that a miraculous redemption takes place in a book wherein God is never mentioned.

For me, most notably, we will also read about the ultimate of all pathetic bystanders in folklore or history. King Ahashuerus idly allowed for extinction orders for first Jews and then his own people received the seal of his signet ring. Haman came and asked for the first edict. Without asking a single question, he signed the order. When Mordechai later came for the edict to attack Persians (the King’s own people) the King signed it without question. He was too busy partying to know what horrors he empowered. Now, we are pretty certain that this story is folklore, but it speaks a chilling truth, nonetheless. Neither Haman nor Mordechai can accept full blame for their request – the King blindly granted them both. The late Elie Wiesel said, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.

The King’s apathy destroyed his own nation. Love and hate both require energy. So many people have held sacred to this message: The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. We have to pay attention; the ostrich who hides her head in the sand has no way of knowing when her rear will be kicked or from which direction.

I need to know that people are engaged. Disagreement is not our enemy; our inability or unwillingness to meaningfully communicate is. Former President of the World Bank Group, James Wolfensohn remarked, “The future is in our hands. We are not hapless bystanders. We can influence whether we have a planet of peace, social justice, equity, and growth or a planet of unbridgeable differences between peoples, wasted resources, corruption, and terror.

We also begin a new book in Torah this week: Leviticus. The Hebrew name for the book is Vayikra, which translates to read, “(God) Called.” God called out to Moses, engaged him, and often debated with Moses. In their dialogue (which was often contentious), they grew a mutual respect. Moses changed God’s mind and God opened Moses’ eyes. This Biblical relationship and paradigm teaches us that there is no power too high to blindly follow. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), we spend the greatest part of the day thinking and rethinking our behaviors with each other and with God. We spend the day atoning for our failures, holding ourselves and our community accountable for making the coming year more whole. A part of the liturgy also holds God accountable. It is a partnership.

So, my take away this week, from both the holiday and the Torah portion is that if I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. The less involved I get the more passively I affirm everyone’s respective bad behaviors – including my own. People walk away from having done or said something ugly affirmed in their “correctness” because no one said anything to the contrary.

I have to do something. I HAVE to do something! I have TO DO something! I have to do SOMETHING! Wars happen because we chose to ignore each other along the path of disagreement. If we take seriously the faithful charge to heal the world, we need to actively care. We need to stand up. We need to act and respond. We need to respond in a way to create engagement, not to bring dismissal. “Ay, there is the rub.” Shabbat shalom.