Our hearts go out to the families of the two policemen assassinated this past week. Although words of consolation are appreciated it behooves our community to bring a bit of joy to these families in these difficult times. The Orthodox Union has set up a fund to aid these two families and can be accessed through their website or boy following this link.
Did you know that the prayer for the State of Israel recited every Shabbat starts off with the words “reishit tzmichat G’ulatainu” – the beginning of the final redemption? Yes, I know it’s only a prayer but its authors lived in our lifetime and are modern thinkers. It’s one of the prayers that those reciting have a good grasp of its meaning. While a doomsday mentality is of course against our beliefs, we nonetheless prophecy a radical shift in the geopolitical sands is soon to descend upon us. The prophets emphasize that Israel, who has always been portrayed, as a pariah nation will soon bring redemption to the world. All the enmity and diatribes heaped upon them by university professors and most global governments will soon cause them to be discredited by the winds of change. It is our dream that coming years will usher in the new millennia of peace and coexistence. No, I have not become a radical espousing leftist view. Nor do I sing kumbaya and embrace hemp like products. I am merely highlighting the essential meaning of one of our most important prayers.
Am I really so naive and accepting, do I actually believe what I am writing? Do I have any legitimate frame of reference for similar shifts in the global political realm? Well this week’s Torah portion seems to embrace life’s strange cycle of events; the reversal of fortune seems to be its theme. Joseph who was sold into a bitter tormented slavery in a few short years manages to rise to the position of viceroy of Egypt. His brothers who thought they controlled his future eventually faced the political tides of change and became entirely beholden to his every whim. Of course the prevailing non-theistic dogma is to accept the total randomness and independence of each action; believing that the weavers only patterned their story after collecting the data. Yet theists seem to differ and have a rather more Godly comprehension of global events.
Although I try not to credit all rational events to God, I still firmly believe that God may be involved in events that are rational. I also firmly believe that man bears responsibility for his actions and may not use a deity’s silence or lack of intervention as an indication of His tacit approval or acceptance. The recent shocking news of two policemen killed is not divine justice as some want to hypothesize. It is just another example of inhumane behavior that is the result of our politicians’ irresponsibility. Over the past few months, rhetoric from Al Sharpton, Mayor De Blasio and others have inflamed a highly volatile situation. Often only a small spark is needed to turn relative calm into violent rage, and a racially charged public into a frenzied mass. This is most true when feelings have gone unexpressed and unheard for long periods of time. When an individual or a group then finds their voice and moment to speak, the message often comes out more exaggerated than if it had been expressed in increments over time. I have never walked in the shoes or skin of a person of color, and I cannot know what it is like to be singled out and approached by uniformed officers because of stereotyping. Unfortunately, perceived advances in racial harmony and equality quickly dissolved into thin air and were replaced with intolerance, discord, and violence. Sadly, in the eyes of some, the uniformed protector has morphed into murderer of the innocent, while those committing acts of violence are excused as societal victims of brutality.
Certainly racial undertones and inequalities will always be prevalent in our country and other countries across the globe. It’s not a white/black Jew/gentile Sunni/Shia Arab/Israeli issue; cultural divisions have been ever-present reality since creation. Yet to continue a diatribe against the police who daily put their lives in danger to protect all citizens seems incredulous. Many Jews know firsthand that anti-Semitism exists and have been victim to biases and innuendo negatively stereotyping Jews. Yet often these politically charged situations resulted from a heinous crime and have no bearing on the race, color and religion or the ethnicity of the victim. An unbiased observer would easily find a direct relationship between cause and effect; yet the unbiased are too frightened to come to the fore. Some politicians in Washington and New York may be more interested in fomenting unease than trying to resolve the hostility. They choose to ignore the obvious connection between the public denigration of law enforcement and the dearth of violence against them. Even a cursory of the Joseph story would see that his brother’s only had the courage to sell him into slavery after first denigrating him personally and making him sound less than human.
In truth many of my personal values were predicated by my upbringing. I was taught that the teacher was correct, even though some teachers may not be worthy of that title. I was told to respect my elders, even though some elders don’t deserve my respect. I was taught to obey and listen to those in positions of authority, even though some in those positions may abuse their authority. I guess I believe my upbringing has merit and thus I share publicly my philosophy. Am I always correct? I guess it’s much like democracy; it may not be perfect but it’s surely better that the alternatives. Even the prayer we proudly recite in respect to the State of Israel will be characterized by others as propaganda and disregarded as heresy.
Yet one of life’s strange twists is that our greatest pleasures are often predicated by hardships and setbacks. The more we had to fight for our successes the greater its appreciation. In order to achieve a better tomorrow; we also had to face a difficult today.
Rabbi Jack Engel