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Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Being a Priestly Nation During a Humanitarian Crisis

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In 2002, Yossi and Chanah Dickstein and their nine-year-old son were murdered in an act of terror. Their younger son, Benaya, was married this past week to his bride, Neta.

The story of Amalek: Even though we know that the physical nation no longer exists (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 5:4-5) – its vicious, so to say, “spiritual progeny” – those whose agenda is to destroy the Jewish people through their horrific acts of antisemitism, as well as those who are committed to destroying other nations for reasons just to promote their own agenda.

The mitzvah of blotting out the memory of Amalek is a Biblical commandment (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) which we are mandated to read to remind us that we need to speak out against antisemitism and we need to speak out against any attack against an innocent nation.

Indeed, this book of Vayikra is called Torat Kohanim, the Book of the Priests/Leviticus, not only because it focuses on the Temple service, but because it speaks about the responsibility of the Jewish people to be a priestly nation, to be a nation that promotes justice, that speaks out not just with words, but also with actions against injustice.

That’s our responsibility as Jews and as citizens of the world. It is a reminder on Shabbat Zachor, a reminder with the introduction of Sefer Vayikra, of our responsibilities to speak truth to power.

Natan Sharansky spoke at one of the sheva brachot at the Dickstein wedding, where he mentioned that, growing up in Donetsk, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, everyone carried a government-issued ID card which said whether you were from Ukraine or Russia or Kazakhstan, or if you were Jewish.

If you were from Ukraine or from anywhere in Russia, that identity card was still an entry, grades permitting, into university. But even if grades permitted, your identity card said ‘Jew’ – even if you knew nothing about your Judaism – your ability to attend university was impossible.

And now, said Sharansky, as people are leaving Ukraine as refugees, and presenting their identity card stating their Jewish identity at neighboring countries’ borders, being Jewish is not something that deters you, but something that actually welcomes you into the embrace of others who are willing to help Jewish refugees.

The truth is that’s our responsibility, but it’s also our responsibility to help all people: Shabbat Zachor and Sefer Vayikra, reminding us of our responsibility to be a priestly nation in our engagement with society.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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