Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Vayishlach
I am struggling with the news we have to hear each day. How could some of the nightmares of which we read and see be happening in the 21st century? Have we not learned from the Shoah … from the too many genocides in history? Obviously, any lessons learned for most of the world are matters of ancient history. I often recount a Midrash (Ethical Story) found in a few different places in our tradition about the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem: the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (code words for two unnamed people).
This story is about a Jerusalemite who made a feast. He instructed his staff to be sure to invite his friend Kamtza. By mistake, the staff invited the similarly named Bar Kamtza, the host’s enemy. The host embarrassed Bar Kamtza by kicking him out of the party, even while the guest pleaded a number of times, not to be embarrassed. He even offered to pay for the whole event to avoid the humiliation. The host insisted on embarrassing the man, and even the Rabbis watching did nothing to stop the humiliation. The guest then orchestrated a plot to get back at the people. He arranged for a blemished animal to be offered as a tribute to the king, and then convinced the king that the Jews did this to snub him: they were revolting. This “snub” led the king to destroy the Temple. So, tradition teaches that the Temple was destroyed over Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. “Rav Yochanan said: The indifference of even the sages to the disparagement of the guest’s dignity destroyed our Temple.”
This is a great lesson to teach people of the devastating consequences of standing by, watching, while others experience brutality. We brought on our own destruction. As long as that story stays deep in history, it works, Arguing that we deserved the Shoah, or that the victims of ISIS, Boko Haram, The KKK, or any terror group somehow deserved to be slaughtered because of their “bad behavior” would be horrific. Of course these groups preach exactly that: they are cleansing the world of those who are out of synch with their personal concept of godliness. We know today, that society has a tendency to blame victims first. People claiming to be representatives of God blamed the United States for September 11, for deserving Katrina and Sandy, and schools shot up (for not having even more dangerous weapons around our children). It is nothing short of nightmarish that we spend so much energy pointing fingers at our victims.
So I come before God shaking my fist. “Ribono Shel Olam, (sardonically) Master of the world! How? Why? Where is the call for justice and for love? Where is your power for good? How can I have faith in the Source of Good with the nightmares surrounding me?”
This week, Jacob wrestles with God. Jacob is about to face off with his brother who he has not seen since cheating him of the blessing. Jacob put God to the test; wrestled with God. The Torah says that Jacob won. Jacob was afraid; fearing for his life. His wrestling match with God gave him the strength and the support that he needed to face his brother … to look death in the face and turn that potentially tragic meeting into a blessing.
In Jacob’s wrestling match, I see my own way through my struggle. We face those wanting to scare us into submission and hiding both with violent use of weapons and with the vile use of the tongue. We have domestic and foreign terrorists seeking to take our lives. We have domestic and foreign terrorists wanting to enslave us in fear to their ideology of hate and power mongering. I see very little difference between the rabid cleric calling on misguided ideologues to “cleanse the world of inferior races, religions, or genders” and the power hungry American pundit or politician indoctrinating naive and scared people to turn our backs on God and our Constitutional demand to protect the inalienable rights and dignity of all people. Inalienable means that they inure to the benefit of everyone and cannot be taken away.
Would Jesus, Moses, or Mohammed (peace be upon them all) sanction turning people in peril aside? Would they be okay with the cry to let the innocent be slaughtered? No, as Micah teaches us, “God has told us what is good and what God requires of us: do righteously, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
We only win this wrestling match when we learn what Jacob learned– When we gather hand in hand and demonstrate our commitment to each other’s life, liberty, and pursuit of blessing. We best deal with the sources of fear when we stand tall, even injured (as was Jacob’s hip). We lose if we give into the fear proffered from either brand of terrorist, and run hiding from each other. We win … God wins when we remember that in a world where no one remembers to be human, we must set the example, living and teaching the blessings due all humanity. Shabbat Shalom.