William Hamilton

Bad leaps of faith

The news that the perpetrator of months of emotional terror inflicted on Jewish communities nationwide is an American-Israeli struck at our world like a thunderclap.  Self-inflicted harm stings.  Forceful condemnation from Jewish leaders is necessary – the opposite of needless – to say.  Anti-Semites have been given new cover and fresh fuel.  And while it is true that haters have never needed excuses to hate, gifting them a new one is damaging. 

What possible lesson can be learned?  Especially in light of the obvious point that prosecuting the defiling crimes of one will do little to reduce ongoing hate crimes against the living (Westminster, London) and the deceased (cemetery desecration).  Perhaps an important lesson is to be wary of jumping to conclusions.   

Viral internet connectivity has turned rash verdicts into a virtual reflex.  This is especially true when new data points conform to and confirm our beliefs.  But we need to begin to develop new reflexes.  When a story comes to our attention, perhaps before absorbing it or sharing it, we should ask ‘What if it’s not accurate?’ in addition to considering its source. 

Software designed to help us write used to be called ‘word processing’ applications.  Today we need to acquire ‘content processing’ skills. 

This week’s portions of Torah opens by teaching that burning fire on the Sabbath is prohibited (Ex. 35:3).  Why emphasize fire?  The Torah’s only two references to fire since Sabbath observance was commanded at Mt. Sinai relate to the Golden Calf.  Aaron claimed that the Calf was produced by fire and Moses destroyed it with fire (Ex. 32:20,24).  In a sense, prohibiting fire on the Sabbath is a reminder of the Golden Calf rebellion.  The Hebrew word for Calf is egel which is related to the Aramaic word agala which means haste.  The idolatry of the Golden Calf can be understood as prizing hasty rushes to judgement. Forbidding fire on the Sabbath then reminds us of the destructive outcomes of rash verdicts. 

Leaps of faith can be bad.   Law enforcement professionals have a truism they try to keep in mind in the immediate aftermath of a crime, “The first story you hear will always change”. 

May our conclusions be considered and our verdicts verified, to better enable us to remain safe, secure, and responsibly free.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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