Friday, January 9, 2015

Heritage Trumps Hatred

As we begin the book of Shemot / Exodus and recount once again our descent into Egypt as a family and our ascent from slavery as a people, I am reminded by current events of the enduring value of peoplehood, and how it is a source of comfort in dark times. Within the first few verses of this book, the Egyptian pharaoh describes us as "benei Yisrael," the people of Israel (Ex. 1:9), the definition serving to set us apart as the other, as distinct from the native Egyptian population.

With today's hostage-taking episode in a kosher grocery in Paris, resulting in at least four dead and five wounded, our "otherness" was once again served to us in a particularly cruel stew of terror and hatred. On the heels of the killings earlier in the week at the office of Charlie Hebdo, it is evident that bad actors in this world include both Jews and free speech in the same cross-hairs.

In moments like these, when our inclination might be to respond in anger, I look to our tradition for strength. We are not a vengeful people; we are not bloodthirsty. Rather, tragedies such as these should be met with the same response that Jews have always had to anti-Semitic acts: to rally around our heritage, our tradition; to return to our mitzvot, our Torah; to remain stubbornly proud of who we are and who our God is. Our pride is more powerful than their hatred.

We mourn for those fellow Jews who fell at the hands of terrorists; our hearts go out to their families, to those of the French Jewish community who are feeling ever more besieged, and to all lovers of peace and freedom throughout the world whose hearts ache over the events of the past week. And we reach once again for the story of our national foundation, invoking as we do every time we finish reading the Torah the words of Eikhah / Lamentations (5:22): Hashiveinu Adonai eilekha venashuva, hadesh yameinu keqedem. Return us to you, O God, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.

Let this be a Shabbat shalom, a Shabbat of peace, for benei Yisrael.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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