Ending Racism

Racism is a social scourge that has taken many forms of expression throughout the ages. At its heart racism is rooted in the medieval caste society — the feudal lords and the surfs. If you were from noble extraction, you were considered inherently superior. If you were a serf, you were expected to know your place as an inferior. Plato spoke of three classes of people, golden, silver, and copper. He argued that society is at its best when each class knows its rightful place.

This is rooted in ancient pagan myths by which the king was a personification of the nation’s deity and was, therefore, somewhat of a deity himself. The closer you were to the king, the greater was your stature. Those who were furthest from the king mattered little or not at all. They were beneath the station of the gods and, therefore, of no consequence.

Jewish Equality
Judaism was the first to change all this. Judaism demanded of its kings that their hearts not grow haughty over their brothers. Judaism didn’t select its kings on the basis of class. Moses and King David were chosen for their compassion. The Jewish prophets routinely reprimanded Jewish kings for their shortcomings and even prophesied their downfall. This was unheard of in the ancient world.

In Judaism, a king is subject to the same law as everyone else and any Jewish citizen can take the king to court. Judaism taught that the life of a child takes precedence over Shabbat, but not the honor of a king. In the medieval days, kings consolidated power by bribing powerful families with titles and lands. Judaism would not allow a king to grant his favorite subjects title to another’s land.

Judaism taught that though a nation has leaders and elders, before G-d they are equal to the water carriers and woodchoppers. Judaism taught us to love the foreigner because we were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. We know what it feels like to be at the bottom of the totem pole and must, therefore, never disdain the unfortunate. In Rome, all foreigners were considered second class, at best, and enemies at worst. In ancient Greece, the Athenians were in perpetual war with foreigners. By contrast, the Torah instructed Jews to embrace the foreigner.

Thus, was born the conflict between the ancient and the moral societies. The notion that one race is superior to another, that one group of people have more rights than another, was the backbone of the ancient societies and the antithesis of the moral society.  On the one side stood the pagans and those who wielded power, on the other side stood the Jewish prophets and the teachers of yore. It would take a long time, but the power of the word would eventually prevail over the power of the sword.

The Slow March to Equality
The Renaissance allowed people the freedom to think for themselves, but this freedom did not liberate the serfs. The Founding Fathers of the United States declared liberty an inalienable right endowed by the creator, but they did not liberate their slaves. The civil war brought an end to slavery in the United States, but it didn’t end discrimination. The Civil Rights Act brought an end to legal discrimination, but it failed to end social discrimination. The country has limped along since then, some pockets practicing more racism than others.

Although it makes no sense to consider one race superior to another and though such thinking is detrimental to all of humanity, it was, nevertheless, an accepted practice that its practitioners never questioned. Just like the ancients took for granted that nobles are more entitled than surfs, many whites took for granted that racism is their right.

A Shift of Messianic Proportions
But something dramatic shifted recently. Racism is no longer cool in America. There has been a massive outcry; a spotlight has been shined on this moral scourge and now racism is considered shameful. Peer pressure no longer encourages racism. Today, peer pressure discourages racism.

Many see the current situation in the United States as a symptom of its moral decay. I see it differently. The United States is finally coming out of its moral decay. I don’t like the way they are going about it, but the reality is that this massive country is awakening from its moral slumber and adopting, in actual practice, the principles of equality that the Jewish prophets have trumpeted. They have begun to embrace the Torah’s teaching that all humans are equal in the eyes of the Creator irrespective of color and race.

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment and fail to appreciate its profundity until it passes. Let’s not make that mistake today. A hundred years from now we will look back to this moment and recognize it as the time that racism drew its final breath. When racism and discrimination were finally overcome, and society embraced genuine equality.

We have come a long way since the ancient pagans worshipped their kings and noblemen. We have come a long way since the Romans considered outsiders second class. We have come a long way since Muslims and Christians expelled or taxed those who did not embrace their faith systems. We have come a long way since slavery. We have come a long way since discrimination. It has been a long journey, but I believe that we are taking its final steps.

As we draw closer to the messianic age, the world shifts its thinking and aligns itself with the way Mashiach will think. Mashiach will teach the principle of equality and the divine image in which all of humanity is created. Mashiach will teach that every person has a unique G-d given purpose that no one else can accomplish and in that respect he or she is superior.

Somehow, the world is coming around to this way of thinking. It takes a long time for a large ship to turn around. On the surface, it seems like the progress is slow but beneath the surface, the ship’s screws twist furiously and raise a terrific disturbance. The United States is experiencing its chaotic disturbance, but the ship is coming around.

Don’t think that other countries are superior to the United States and don’t practice racism. Racism and discrimination exist everywhere, and every country will need to heal from it, but as is often the case, the United States is leading the way. The ripple effect of this movement will reach other countries, and eventually transform the world’s conscience. That will be a day of Messianic proportions.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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