Parshat Zachor – The Synthesis of Word and Deed
The headlines that splash across the international press this week cause me to bow my head in shame. I read “tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered in New York’s financial district to protest against a Knesset bill to draft previously exempt yeshiva students into the IDF or national service.” I read that the Supreme Court ordered new elections in Beit Shemesh and Nazareth, nullifying the October municipal election results. The Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Uzi Vogelman, and supported by Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, said that the fraud committed in the October Beit Shemesh elections was “worrying and disturbing.”
These are not isolated fringe radicals that we dismiss as being irrelevant; these are mainstream charedi groups that want their playing field to remain unbalanced. Rule of law may be suspended if their rabbis deem it appropriate, and what’s good for the goose is sadly not good enough for the gander. They want to benefit from the freedoms of living in a democracy, yet they feel entitled to dismiss core elements of a democratic society: equality, mutual responsibility, and respect for all citizens. It’s not that I want to reprogram them to think as I do; I want them to stop hiding behind the mask of religion to pursue their political vendetta.
When I grew up The Jewish Press was almost divine as its weekly revelations were based more upon faith than fact. We read the paper religiously and identified with the Arnold Fine articles commenting on how life used to be on the Lower East Side. He was not an observant Jew, but he was extremely Jewish. His lexicon included Yiddish idioms with a bissele of mamma loshon. However, today I would not lower myself to subscribe or read a newspaper that has sold its soul. It is unwilling to support anyone that takes a side against the far right. They recently fired a reporter because the gist of his article held the Charedim in contempt for not serving in the Tzahal.
This Shabbat we read Parshat Zachor in which we remember the oppressive atrocities inflicted by the nation of Amalek upon the Jews of antiquity. There is a second component of this obligation – that we destroy the remnants of Amalek to ensure that history does not have a chance of repeating itself. So who, you may ask, is tasked with that obligation? Is there any dispensation given to scholars excusing them from this law? Their decision to ignore the second phase of the biblical commandment shows that they have not concluded their studies. For 50,000 students and rabbis to protest against the fulfillment of a biblical commandment is just bizarre. King Saul, the first Jewish monarch, was punished for choosing to ignore the will of God and for acting magnanimously towards Agag, King of Amalek. He acted with benevolence by sparing a life, but by doing so was deemed complicit in any future atrocities.
I know this may come as a shock, but many a politician has been known to be disingenuous and self-serving. Just look at Capitol Hill and you can see the spiraling wealth of those elected to serve their constituents. However, what I find more appalling than members of Congress misusing their position of trust for personal gain, are those that misuse religion as a means of gaining power, influence, and wealth. It is impossible to fathom the paradox of politicians who take a stand against secularism by ignoring the tenets of Judaism.
The book of Esther is written in code; the name of God is mysteriously absent, and Queen Esther, the name of the central character, actually means hidden. The objective of the Megillah is to inform the thinking person to use their own comprehension in guiding their life. To see God even when he is not visible, to seek justice even when it will go unnoticed, and to stand up for your people even when no one else will be there. (The tree really does make noise when it falls in the forest). And perhaps most importantly is to celebrate this Purim by placing a mask upon your face; to create a new identity free of fear, intimidation, and trepidation. To finally realize that your voice is the only one that really counts; your secrets have no obstacles in penetrating your soul, and no one can represent your values and morals better than you.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,
Rabbi Jack Engel
PS: Purim is the time for giving charity generously, and indeed I want to thank our members and friends for their overwhelming generosity. Matanot L’evyonim – giving charity to the poor – is an integral mitzvah over Purim and we always dedicated these funds to help needy families in Israel. The giving of charity is a very personal choice and I am loathe to even suggest how others dispense their charity dollars. I will only say that my personal preference is to help those charities that assist the physically or mentally handicapped or individuals whose financial difficulties are beyond their control. As well, I limit my charity dollars to those who hold global views that are in sync with my own. However, it is far better to err and give to some that are undeserving, than not to give at all.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach
Rabbi Jack Engel