This week Is Holocaust Education Week in Toronto,. It is a week devoted to learning about and remembering the Holocaust. We listen to Holocaust survivors who share their experiences, watch films, and attend lectures and musical performances relating to the Holocaust. In addition there are presentations about atrocities and genocides against other peoples.
This week is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and in a few days we will observe Remembrance Day. It is a day devoted to honouring those who fell fighting in World War I.
Last week was a difficult week, a week of tears. The murder of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh who were in synagogue praying on Shabbat shocked the world. Tears were shed around the globe and vigils were attended by all races and religions in hundreds if not thousands of cities. Antisemitism was condemned internationally by leaders from countries in every corner of the planet. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many words were spoken by leaders of the nations, eleven Jews were shot to death because they were Jewish.
The parsha on that fateful Shabbat was “VaYeira”, the story of Abraham and Sarah and their long awaited son Isaac.
Abraham and Sarah had been chosen by God to lead a new nation that would be righteous and exemplify a moral compass created by God. The new nation would be small compared to the peoples around them. And, as the the story played out both in the Torah and throughout history, the new nation created by God would survive longer than other nations would survive, but at a price. The new Jewish nation would be be envied, feared and hated.
Unfortunately amid the tears there was also a lot of hateful speech. Following the Pittsburgh massacre fingers were pointed and leaders were blamed. Why did this happen and who is to blame is a big question. “Who is to blame?” One answer is that the gunman, fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda and armed with legal guns and rifles is to blame. Another answer is that unbridled hate speech feeds the loathing. An individual who hates, an individual who uses the free choice God gave humanity, but uses it selfishly and with malice, commits a crime like this.
Human beings are given free choice but Jews are given many, many, many strictures and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. We aren’t expected to love everybody. We don’t even have to like everybody, but we have to respect our parents and teachers, we can’t kill or maim, we can’t steal from another, we aren’t even allowed to “covet ” another’s property. We aren’t allowed to slander. We aren’t allowed to take another’s life, even in error. If all people read the rules God gave us (many of them are outlined in parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapters 19 and 20 ) there would be respect for those unlike ourselves and the world would be a peaceful place.
We live in a world where “freedom of choice” and “freedom of expression” are seen as the highest levels of “freedom”. But according to Judaism that’s not true. As we walk through life and make decisions we need to remember that each decision we make impacts others. The rules and guidelines in Torah help to keep a respectful and safe environment.
When someone dies their death leaves a hole in the lives of their family and the community. May there be fewer holes in the world and let’s all try to mend the holes that exist.
The photographs in this blog were taken by my friend Lis Shapiro. The day after the shooting she was walking in the rain. As she looked around her she saw that even nature was shedding tears.
With prayers for peace, B’Vracha,
es around them, and they would be