Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dvar Torah for Vaetchanan - A Need for a New Set of Commandments

If you had asked me earlier in the week to tell you what I would be talking about this Shabbat, I guarantee that it would not have been what I am going to talk about.

I would not have awoken one morning to see the picture of a smiling dentist next to the dead beloved endangered and protected which was lured out a nature preserve so that he could shoot it and claim it legal. He paid $55,000 for the opportunity to kill Cecil, Africa’s most famous lion and a national symbol of the people of Zimbabwe.

I would not have seen pictures and video of the Israel Defense Forces who were evacuating a settlement deemed illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court be accused of aiding the Nazis.

I would not have seen postings about stabbings by a religious zealot at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, thought they were talking about events of a decade ago, and then realized that not only did it happen again, but that the same hate filled religious zealot had done it again after being released from prison three weeks earlier.

I would not regularly be hearing accusations that people who advocate for the Iran Deal, which attempts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon which it could use to threaten genocide against Israel, are in fact working to hasten that result by so trying.

I would not have conversed with Reform Rabbi colleagues of mine made so uncomfortable by the nature of the advocacy in support of the Iran Deal that they find themselves believing, as unfortunately do I, that antisemitism is now fair to use as long as you don’t use the words, “Israel, Jewish national organizations, Lobbying, Money, Lies and War” together in one sentence, but using them over and over in connected sentences seems to be fine even for our national leaders in press conferences with Jewish advocates!

I would not have had a conversation with an African American childhood friend who was vigorously arguing that I shouldn’t call the Holocaust “the greatest evil” because he felt it important that I recognize that American slavery was. The Holocaust was my people’s evil.

And I would not have awoken this morning to the news that Jewish religious terrorists set two Palestinian homes on fire, killed an 18 month old boy, Ali Dawabsha, and severely injured his four year old brother who may yet succumb to his injuries.

I should not be entering this Shabbat with its Deuteronomic Torah portion containing the second rendition of the Ten Commandments along with the Shema and V’ahavtah, instead thinking about the exhortation to do violence against sacrilege in Chapter 7 and how that may have motivated despicable actions this week.

Thou shall not murder.
Thou shall not covet, much less steal.
Thou shall not create or worship false idols.
Thou shall not make false accusations against the innocent.
Thou shall not take God’s name in vain.
What has happened in our world when those respected by society and the most pious neglect even these commandments?

I am disheartened by the events this week. I am crushed by the events over night in Israel.

I am made more hopeful by some of the responses to these awful things. Yair Lapid, leader of the “There is a Future” party, Yesh Atid, and a Member of the Israeli Knesset did a wonderful job of summing up much of how I feel about recent events in Israel in response to the terror attack overnight. He said:

We’re at war: for the future, for Zionism, for our existence…and we can’t afford to lose.

And our enemy is ourselves.

We cannot afford to lose sight of our goals, nor how important it is to stand up for our beliefs.

I am merely a rabbi. I do not claim to have prophetic visions and I certainly have not been visited by God upon a mountain as the Torah tells us that Moses was. But, I think, I have a few commandments to offer that might do us some good.
  1. Thou shall remember that we are all created in the image of God, that all of us bleed red blood when we are injured, and that all of us cry, fear, laugh and hope.
  2. Thou shall not dehumanize so as to consider murder something other and lesser.
  3. Thou shall not act as if political advocacy entitles us to demonize our opponents.
  4. Thou shall not allow hatred to rule over us.
  5. Thou shall not forget that once people we certain that the world was flat.
  6. Thou shall remember that we were strangers.
  7. Thou shall remember that we were persecuted.
  8. Thou shall remember to try to understand each other and overcome self-centeredness.
  9. Thou shall remember to be compassionate.
  10. Thou shall surely remember that “there but for the grace of God” could go any one of us.

May the coming week be a week that sees Shalom return to our world and be a greater part of our lives. 

May it be a week during which we see stories that make us hopeful and remind us of what is good in our world and of the best that people can be. 

Kein yehi ratzon! May it be God’s will!