Once again terrorists have struck this week. First at the French satirical newspaper office, killing and maiming innocents; and then at the heart of Jewish Paris, attacking and attempting to take hostages of Jews shopping as they prepare for Shabbat. What can be said that hasn’t been said? Words of condemnation have begun to ring hollow. We know we must provide adequate protection at our institutions and the institutions of freedom and liberty; the places that reflect the values of western civilization, decency and life itself.
We have every right to be angry and frustrated. And we must take care that our anger and frustration does not turn us into our enemies who call for revenge and express their racism and bigotry and hatred. We believe and hold fast to justice, truth and decency. We believe that human beings and human systems have the capacity to change, and we know and affirm that we live in a world of difference. Yet at the end of the day, we can only care for ourselves, protect ourselves, and determine how we live in this world. My most idealistic desire is to see the Muslim world begin to aggressively challenge its extremists, to renounce violence, and to begin a serious program of introspection on the treatment of “others,” the treatment of women and the notion of freedom.
This week, we begin reading the most important book that we have – the Book of Exodus, the book of Shemot. It is our story of freedom. It affirms that no tyrant has the right to impose his will on others, and that every person has an inherent sacred dimension and the right to be free. We were slaves and now we are free. And with that comes an understanding of not only what it means for us, but also what it means for others.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote: “Biblical monotheism was a revolution thousands of years ahead of its time. The exodus was more than the liberation of slaves. It was a redrawing of the moral landscape. If the image of God is to be found – not only in kings, but in the human person as such – then all power that dehumanizes is ipso facto an abuse of power. The story of the exodus teaches that over every human power stands the sovereignty of God, defender and guarantor of the rights of humankind.”
Every act of terror is a desecration of all that is good and holy and meaningful in this world. Every terrorist act diminishes humanity and God in this world.
So…we must be strong and ready to defend. We must continue to affirm that which is good and meaningful, and not fall into the trap of revenge; but rather pursue justice, justly. Someday this will end. In the meantime, we do what is right and never give up hope for tomorrow.
I hope to see you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
P.S. Last week, I received many requests for my sermon which dealt with intermarriages and the non-Jews in our midst. You can download it here.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l