On Friday night, we will send the youngest among us to open our doors to the promise of perfect redemption. This year, though, that promise feels more distant than ever, even unattainable: Humans, far from being God’s partners in bringing salvation, continue to destroy the world.
We are taught, by the ancient rabbis in the Mishnah and also in the holy Quran: “One who kills a single human being is compared to one who destroys the entire world.”[i]
Hatred has annihilated God’s creation repeatedly.
On March 15, 2019, fifty human lives were snuffed out. Their crime? Being Muslims at prayer.
On October 27, 2018, eleven precious souls were taken from this Earth. Their crime? Being Jews at prayer.
On June 12, 2016, forty-nine human beings were executed. Their crime? Being gay men, or in the presence of gay men, at a night club.
On June 17, 2015, nine of God’s children were shot to death. Their crime? Being Black people at a Bible Study.
On September 11, 2001, nearly 3000 lives were taken. Their crime? Being Americans, or among Americans, at work or on an airplane.
And I have listed only a small fraction of these horrors in the current century.
In the last century, Pastor Martin Niemoller, in the wake of the Nazi genocide, initially imagined himself to have been among those who had resisted Hitler and his homicidal hatred. Then, he visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. At the crematorium, he saw the dates throughout which a quarter million victims had been incinerated there, 1933-1945. Niemoller recognized his culpability. He had not begun standing up to Hitler until 1937. Only then, Pastor Niemoller began to hold himself to account for the slaughter, in words that later became a famous poem:[ii]
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
If we are to send our children to the door with integrity, we must declare that we will never be silent in the face of hatred.
When they come for Muslims, we must speak out, because silence is deadly.
When they come for African Americans, we must speak out, because silence destroys the entire world.
When they come for queer folks, we must speak out, because silence is deadly.
When they come for immigrants, we must speak out, because silence destroys the entire world.
When they come for Republicans or Democrats, for Americans or Asians, for Christians or Jews, for country folk or city dwellers, we must speak out, because silence destroys the entire world.
Speaking out is powerful. The rabbis taught, in words also inscribed in the holy Quran: One who saves a single life is credited with saving the entire world.[iii]
As our young
ones open the doors on Friday night, we pray that they do so with eyes that
shine with the promise of a bright future. We who are adults, while smiling for
our little ones, must open our eyes wide both to all that plagues God’s
creation and to our power and responsibility to be God’s partners in salvation.
[i] M. Sanhedrin 4:5, inter alia in the Talmud. Also Quran 5:32.
[ii] Joseph Coohill, ”Martin Niemoller, ‘First They Came…’ – Quote or No Quote,” Professor Buzzkill, November 6, 2018.
[iii] M. Sanhedrin 4:5, inter alia in the Talmud. Also Quran 5:32
Rabbi Barry H. Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a member of the CCAR Board of Trustees.