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Parashat Achare-Kedoshim

04/22/2021 03:28:10 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

According to the midrash, when the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea after we were safe on the other side, the angels in heaven celebrated. God admonished them and told them that it was wrong to celebrate when all of these creations were dying. We use this text to explain the wrongness of celebrating at the downfall of our enemies and those we don’t agree with.

This week, as the jury’s verdict was being read, I continued to breathe and question what the appropriate response should be. Should there be mass euphoria in the country? Many of us believe that had the verdicts gone a different way, there might have been a different and awful response. I was relieved to find there wasn’t a violent response and there wasn’t an over the top celebration.

This trial should never have happened since George Floyd should still be alive. But the reality is George Floyd died and a reckoning was necessary. The reality in 2021 is we still have yet to figure out how we are to make peace with our past, and to learn to live with each other. The reality in 2021 is we still have not made it to the “promised land” that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always spoke of. The reality is we still live in a country that is divided along numerous lines. We still live in a country where we judge those who are different than us. We still live in a country where we can live only 10 miles away from someone physically, but in reality, live on different continents. We simply don’t understand the worlds of those around us and we don’t work hard enough to better embrace the various worldviews.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote “Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, [and] in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” All too often in our world we find the reverse of this quote. People assume guilt by association and people assume the way we look determines the way we think and what we do. That doesn’t lessen our collective responsibility to be a part of the solution… a part of the conversation. 

This week’s double portion is אחרי מות and קדושים. Those two portions mean “after death” and “holy.”  What’s interesting is the word in the second portion that follows “holy” is תהיו “you shall be.” If we read those two sets of words together, we would get the sentence “after death you shall be holy.” I always like to explain to people it doesn’t mean death makes us holy. It means when we experience loss, we can choose to build or destroy in response. We can choose to love more or close ourselves off. We can choose to be more holy after a loss or we can choose to not be.

George Floyd should not have died but he did. Last summer we saw frustration and anger that was not holy as the response. Now, after the guilty verdict, we have the opportunity to find holiness in the form of confronting our society and our world. We have the choice to have hard conversations that make us uncomfortable, or to allow the status quo to move forward. We have the choice to build in holiness or destroy in profanity.

I do not believe in the collective guilt of the heroes who serve in our police forces. I do not believe in the collective guilt of white America. I do not believe in the collective guilt in communities of color. I believe deeply that every single person must be judged individually on their own merits and on nothing else. The opportunity is now in front of us to sit down and have the hard talks. The time has come for us to leave the old way of doing things behind and instead choose to build a better future. When we manage to do this, we will be able to see how, after a tragic death, we can make a better and more sacred community and country for all.

Wed, May 12 2021 1 Sivan 5781