Our World’s Imbalanced Attitude
It’s not that I am insensitive to the concerns of the French or the need to stand up against tyranny and submission of freedoms; I only question the obvious. Can people really be outraged about Charlie and yet not acknowledge the moral equivalency of the murders that occurred in the Kosher Market? Can the world really believe they are united against terrorism while the hands of many of those protesting the murders in Paris are stained by the blood of their tyrannical regimes? Is the blood of the Jew less red? Are the deaths of our people less significant? Do they even understand the words Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité? Do they really understand what freedom of expression truly means?
I am still in shock trying to grapple with the magnitude of the tragedy and I shudder to think of the physical and emotional stresses facing the Jewish community in France and the European Union. In wearing my Jewish hat I undeniably feel a greater sense of tragedy for the innocent civilians killed as they went to buy kosher food for Shabbat. I feel for the Jews of Toulouse, the Jews of Brussels, and those impacted by the Russian invasion of Crimea. Although I have walked through the Arab Shuk in Jerusalem cognizant and aware of my surroundings, I still always felt secure, knowing that the IDF or the police was nearby. During my global travels I have experienced far more racial tension than religious bias, and even that never created any upheaval to my daily life. I never had a major concern sending my children to a Jewish school, attending synagogue, or participating in religious activities.
However, I realize that I am partially to blame. By allowing my thoughts to be dictated by my religious garb, I play into the hands of those the world needs to condemn. When I allow my heart to imagine that Jewish blood is more important than gentile blood, I give credence to a theology that I abhor and detest. Just a few days ago three female suicide bombers, including one aged around 10, blew themselves up in attacks on busy Nigerian markets. Dozens were killed, yet for all my indignation against terror, I said nothing. It has been reported that during the tumultuous days of terror in France, over two thousand civilians were killed by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, yet once again I said nothing. Nary a sound was heard from anyone. There was no sight of world leaders walking hand in hand to condemn terrorism. No flowers placed on the street, no public cries for a cessation of hostilities, nothing more than the shrill sound of silence.
I received an email this week with the following caption: “when terrorists attack Paris the world rallies against terror; when terrorists attack Israel the world rallies against Israel.” Why should anyone be shocked that this age old paradox resurfaced in the 21st century? Yes, there is a dichotomy, but at least our Jewish tears are seen and our plight exists. Israel may face constant condemnation by its global enemies, but supportive voices can be faintly heard over the cacophony of the shameless multitudes. We have finally reached the status of being a recognized force who will never again be led silently to the gas chambers. We finally have our own army that is willing to go to great lengths to protect a Jew. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the hundreds and thousands of victims in Africa. These victims are impacted more by our silence than by the terror that surrounds their daily existence.
What does freedom really mean? Perhaps this week’s Torah portion may offer some insight. We drink four cups of wine during the Passover Seder to commemorate the four expressions of redemption used to describe the exodus from Egypt. Each expression increases freedoms and are steps that would benefit our world if implemented.
[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Vehotzeti – I God, took them out of bondage. He removed them from the bonds of slavery, akin to the sentiment of the black slave after the civil war. Freedom may be on the horizon, yet the oppression of being enslaved still resonates more than the reality that the shackles have been removed.
[if !supportLists]2. [endif]Vehitzalti – I God, saved them from the oppressive regime. They are no longer tormented on a daily basis or fearful of what might happen tomorrow. Yet they are still under rigid controls and subject to the whim of their political leaders.
[if !supportLists]3. [endif]Vega’alti – I God, have redeemed them. They are now free men, no longer afraid of their shadow. They are finally able to begin thinking about their future but nonetheless they remain in a hostile environment.
[if !supportLists]4. [endif]Velakachti – I God, have taken them as my nation. They can now utilize their newfound freedom to progress and become a people. They are finally able to see beyond the horizon and imagine the glow of the morning sun. They are now able to forget the past torment and focus on building their future.
I always read these four expressions of freedom in relation to antiquity, however, I believe they are equally relevant even through a modern lens. In our utopian imagination we see a world that has long abolished slavery and all people have been freed from oppression. We imagine that there are no longer segments of society beholden to taskmasters and indignities. Yet, in reality the existence of physical and emotional shackles is still quite widespread. In Nigeria, Somalia and other African countries, tribal warlords still control large swaths of territory and radical Muslims strike fear with kidnappings and wholesale slaughter of men, women and children. For them we ask that at least the first level of redemption begin.
Others, especially those living in socialist countries, may experience a slight softening of oppression yet they are still beholden to an oppressive regime. The rule of law is subjective and inequality reigns supreme. Their situation may be slightly better than others but still a far cry from what we would expect in 2015. For them we pray for Vehitzalti and ask that the oppressive regimes loosen their stranglehold and allow freedom of expression and cessation of rule dominated by fear and distrust.
The State of Israel and its citizens may be experiencing the third stage of freedom. They are no longer enslaved and are not in danger of an oppressive regime. They live in relative freedom and are able to imagine a bright future. Yet they are still limited by hostile environs; the countries that make up the Middle East agree on only one issue and that is the ultimate destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. To our brothers and sisters in Israel we pray for Vega’alti, the ultimate redemption from those that seek our demise.
Finally we reach the climax – the fourth quarter and the score is tied. We beseech the Almighty to be our head coach to lead our team. We ask him not only to take us to the Super Bowl but to plan ahead for our future and prepare for a tomorrow when we will share with humanity a lasting peace and coexistence. A time where Charlie will no longer be more important than the Jew and where the Jew will be sensitive to the needs of all society. Then and only then will the ultimate expression of redemption and freedom be reached.
Perhaps to better appreciate the words Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité one first has to examine this week’s Torah portion. Perhaps the time has finally come when we all must be accountable and realize that our ability to compartmentalize terror and prioritize groupings are part of the problem and not the solution. When our outlooks are based on our similarities rather than our differences, and when Charlie, Juif, and Humanity are valued equally, then and only then can we truly experience freedom.
Je Suis Charlie – Je Suis Juif – Je Suis humanité
Rabbi Jack Engel