Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Shabbat 23rd Av 5775, 8th August 2015
Here are three quotes from the Torah, including today’s parsha: The idols of their gods ye shall burn with fire. A man who shall bed a man like a woman – they have committed an abomination. Both of them are to be killed. If you do not take over the land from those who lived here before you, those you leave behind will be like a stye in your eye and a pox on your side.
Here are three recent news items. A church was burned at the Kineret. A person who walked in the gay parade was knifed to death. An Arab family’s home was torched and their 18 month old baby was burned to death. Three acts committed by Jews who were merely following the precepts of our Torah.
What right do we have – representatives of the sniveling politically correct modern regime – to condemn people who are following a much superior set of laws? The Chief Rabbinate, those cowards, printed an ad condemning the loss of lives of anyone born in the image of God, Jews or non-Jews and damage to property. But they were counterbalanced by a pashkevil in Mea Shearim praising the bravery of Eli Shlissel and urging others to follow in his homophobic footsteps. And by the hundreds who sang and danced around Meir Ettinger who seems destined to surpass his grandfather’s brand of vigilantism.
It’s nice being the boss in your own country, where you don’t have to grovel before the king or the local lord. But then there’s the down side. You are responsible for all the glitches that upset the rules and regulations you have created. And worse, you are responsible for the deeds committed by ninja mutants that have grown into poison weeds. How you deal with these acts determines what the society you bequeath to your grandchildren will look like and what values they will have.
The book of Devarim seems to be a rambling recounting of events with certain themes repeating multiple times. The ramblings used to bother me a bit. But now I think I have a better grasp of what is happening. Moshe is panicky. The stories he brings up relate how the people left God’s way and built the golden calf while he, Moshe, was up on Sinai getting the Torah, of the many stops along the way where the people rose up against God and were then punished. Through this free-association of experiences in the desert he is trying to instill in the people a fear of what will happen to them if they don’t buckle down and get their act together.
Recent news clearly indicates that we too have to buckle down and get our act together. We are losing control. Our leniency toward violations of the law in order to serve some political agenda is finally beginning to boomerang on us all. It’s like the 1960s and 70s where you were told to let it all hang out. You think someone is a schmo, write it in Facebook or Twitter. You think our President Rivlin, is a closet Arab lover because he bemoans the death of an 18 month old – tell him what you think he should do, and where he should go, and how you’d like to help him get there. Except that all this loose-lip palaver does not purge the soul. It just soils our society.
The acts we have seen raise the question of who are we to condemn ISIS or other extreme groups that destroy centuries-old statues because they violate their religion. Is that worse than burning churches? True, we don’t execute people ISIS style – we prefer the more spontaneous approach. Is one worse than the other? Judging by the general reaction in this country, yes, we are not as bad as they are. So far, we just have to deal with the fringes. Not the tsitsit, although a person who burns houses with people in them or stabs others should not be wearing tsitsit – he is desecrating our religion.
But the question remains: Are we simply too politically correct and overly squeamish and sensitive now to follow the clearly written mitzvoth, or is there another principle that we have overlooked?
What we have overlooked is the law. Who has the right to implement the laws? Yes, the Torah says kill this one, burn that one – in a few weeks we’ll read about stoning a disobedient child. But the rabbis go to great lengths to insist that it never happened – you can play around with the laws so that they do what you want them to do, and the rabbis then, did not want executions, wholesale or retail. A Sanhedrin that sentenced even one person to death was considered a hanging Sanhedrin.
What we are experiencing today is a lethal mix of messianism, xenophobia and religious fervor, combined with ignorance, prejudice, feelings of superiority and inferiority, a fear of being taken for a ride, a local and international atmosphere of general fear and foreboding (some of it totally justified – as is said: just because I am paranoid does not mean they are not out to get me), leniency toward law-breakers, growing awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes, and stronger indications than ever that rich is rich and poor is poor and never the twain shall meet.
What to do? If we continue on our present path, with no changes – my gut feeling is that we won’t have to wait for the Third Temple to be built before it is destroyed.
So where do we go? Back to the sources. I heard this idea on Galei Zahal radio. We turn to Elijah – no one doubts his zealousness. God exposes him to a rock-shattering earthquake, to a deafening noise and to fire, and he says. God is not here or there or there, but rather in a small quiet voice. And the lesson is: You don’t need to burn churches, shake the foundations of buildings or make a lot of noise, the truth is not there. Listen to the underlying message, speak quietly and justly, and you will find truth.