This has been such a difficult week with the video of the despicable murder of George Floyd coming on the footsteps of our already anxious state of mind due to the Coronavirus.
This has been such a difficult week not only because of the graphic video of the brutality, but also because, if we have been paying attention to the news, we know that what happened to George Floyd is not an isolated incident.
This has been such a difficult week as we grapple with a wide range of ensuing reactions, with our own emotions, and with the unrest that we are all witnessing.
Our country was supposed to be better than this!
The disparity in our societal approach to the Black community has been well documented.
Last year I read Chris Hayes’ important book “A Colony in a Nation” which gives a broad yet detailed overview on this subject. If you have not read this book (or others like it), I highly recommend it.
How to respond?
I don’t want to simply repeat the words that have been said over and over again as each new incident has come to light – words decrying the senseless and needless killing of yet another unarmed Black man or woman.
I want to feel that I live in a good society, but the fact of systemic discrimination is undeniable. As a society, we have failed to effectively address the scourge of racism and of hatred in our midst.
I want to feel that I have answers. Instead, I have only heartache and questions.
Heartache because we are taught in the Torah that to stand by and see evil being perpetrated and to do nothing about it is unacceptable.
Questions because we have seen this scenario replayed over and over again. And, despite the peaceful protests against racism that I have witnessed over the years, and despite the painful incidents of riots and looting that occur in the wake of such situations, what I have not seen was a concerted effort to create a coordinated plan to achieve more equal justice and peace in our country.
How can we take concrete steps toward achieving a more just society for the sake of all of us? I don’t have the answers.
But, Judaism teaches us not to abandon all hope – not to sink into a sense of desperation.
This has been a difficult week for all of us and so I look to Torah for some direction, for some solace, and for some hope.
Here is some of what I have found:
We have learned from our tradition that there is value in simply opening the discussion and encouraging people to raise the questions that arise in any given situation.
We have learned from our tradition that we can and should listen deeply to one another and learn from one another.
We have learned that we can and should find ways to turn our values into actions that help us bring healing and blessing into our world.
The choice is ours. Torah teaches us to value life and to choose life, for ourselves and for others.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel sums it up so well, saying:
“Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God….’You must not say, since I have been put to shame, let my neighbor be put to shame…If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for in the likeness of God made He man'”. (Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, p.85)
Since God is the ultimate source of blessing, the spark of holiness that resides within each human being is not only a reflection of God. It also points to our own potential to become a blessing.
This week’s Torah portion includes the three-fold blessing (Numbers 6:22-26):
“The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and protect you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!”
What a beautiful blessing!
This week we have seen arrogance. We have seen acts of desecration. But, our Torah portion, including the three-fold blessing, reminds us that even as our people wandered through the desert, they retained a vision of hope. They were propelled forward by the prophetic vision of a Promised Land which kept them moving forward toward a time of greater blessing. And, even when the vision was obscured by the challenges of the wandering in the desert – they reminded one another of the power of a shared vision of being a blessing.
So, today, as we wander in our own “wilderness”….rather than giving in to feelings of desperation, let us choose the path of dedication. Let us choose to raise up the spirits of those around us. Let us remember the promise of the three-fold blessing. And, let us choose to be a blessing.
Rabbi Gilah Dror