Death Healing News

A Response to Terror in Brussels on Purim

We pray for the people of Belgium and for the families of those killed and injured in the horrific terror attacks in Brussels.

Today, as Jews around the world gather to celebrate Purim, we will pause to remember before engaging in the frivolity and laughter that we are commanded to enjoy on this holiday. On Purim we are reminded of the reality of evil and the serendipitous nature of the line that divides those who are delivered from harm from those who fall victim to hatred and cruelty. Sadly, and tragically, those killed and injured in these brutal attacks did nothing to deserve what befell them. Terror is radically evil precisely because there is no correlation between the perpetrators and their prey. There is no cause, no justice—only random destruction.

We Jews know this kind of evil. We are schooled in it from our history. The martyrs of our people from the pogroms, to the Shoah, to terror in Israel were not singled out for anything that they did. Their fate was sealed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when demonic hatred was unleashed. It didn’t matter their age, their gender, or their political orientation. So, too, in Brussels, the line between those who were killed and those who survived was completely random.

This is the chilling reality that we encounter as we read the Megillah. How many things had to go just right at just the right time for the Jews of Shushan to escape without harm from the decrees of the evil Haman? What if Mordechai had not learned of the plot to kill the King? What if Esther had not been at the court of King Achashverosh? What if the king had not granted her access and been attentive to her plea?

Yes, Esther’s example is one of great courage, but also of good luck. Some see the divine hand behind all the vicissitudes in the Megillah, and in life. I do not. God did not save individuals from death in Brussels, and God didn’t single out others to be killed; just as God doesn’t speak or act in the Book of Esther. Divine compassion is manifest in the world and in the Megillah when people bring it. God’s presence is felt in all places when people act in godly ways.

The Book of Esther has a dark ending. The Jews of Shushan go on a rampage of revenge against their enemies, killing thousands. It is a chilling reminder of how violence can breed more violence, and how the demand for justice can turn cruel if it is not tempered by compassion.

The ultimate answer to hatred is not more hatred. It is love. The best response to sadness is to increase joy. For every act of callousness and violence, let there be remembrance, increased vigilance, and the pursuit of justice by just means. Like Esther, let us be courageous in the face of threats to life, liberty, and dignity. And let us ever be God’s partners in making the world a kinder and gentler place for all.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Rabbi Arnie Gluck Serves Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ. 

Ethics News Reform Judaism Torah

Belgium Raises It All… Over Again

Belgium raises it all… over again.

This week we read in the Torah (Parashat Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-8:36), once again, of laws pertaining to sacrifice and the ancient priestly responsibilities.   Now, we know that the word in Hebrew commonly used to connote “sacrifice” is korban – which better translates as a means of “drawing near.” The idea in Hebrew was that a korban would draw the Israelite people and God nearer one another, through the act of animal sacrifice.

Clearly, such an experience is foreign to our present-day sensibilities, yet today, the term bears heightened possibility… Brussels.

The scenes of the carnage at the airport and the train station – the human sacrifice on the altar of violence in the name of drawing God nearer – must demand our deepest moral attention. To some – the perpetrators and their sympathizers – the images of innocent blood shed in the name of their God relationship – must evoke the very sacrificial experience which Leviticus once commanded.

And, to others – we of the Tradition which has superseded and transcended animal sacrifice in our march towards religious ethics, and drawing near to God through prayer, repentance and acts of justice and kindness – the images remind us that the priestly instructions of Leviticus belong to a bygone age. And our age, instead, has elevated the ethical teachings of that same biblical book, namely, “V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to me, even more powerfully, “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa – Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” to be the paramount, enduring messages of Leviticus.

Essentially, Belgium raises it all… over again. We can best understand where we stand in the advances of religious civilization by how we stand vis-à-vis the commandments of this sacred biblical book. Do we aspire to see the blood of innocents shed that God might draw near, or do we aspire to bring neighbors together in love and purpose, caring for each others’ blood, that we might draw near, and make ourselves more Godly.

I know where we stand.

Rabbi Doug Kohn serves The Reform Temple of Rockland