William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Every thing doesn’t need a reason, but every act needs accountability

A rabbi sitting in front of his synagogue in broad daylight is violently attacked. The acceleration of hate-driven aggression unnerves us. Some seek to understand motivations. It’s human to ask ‘Why?’ Yet, deep down, we know that any excuse will serve the hater.

Emile Durkheim has noted that times of acute stress, a weakened body feels the need to find someone to hold responsible for its sickness. Marek Halter’s new volume Why The Jews: The Need to Scapegoat locates the blaming impulse in the People of Israel’s moral commitments. Aimless people, he notes, will soon lose patience with a people rooted in a book that touts the Ten Commandments, a new rapport between human nature and nature.

Still, the hater has a much easier time locating a scapegoat than we do clarifying the basis for their quest. The bottom line: every thing does not need a reason, but every act does need accountability. Such accountability awaits Rabbi Shlomo Noginski’s attacker.

In this week’s portion of Torah, Moses’s accountability for his misdeed leads him to invite forward Joshua, his worthy successor. Curiously, God ascribes rebellious instincts (m’ritem) to Moses and Aaron, which are precisely the same rebellious instincts (ha-morim) they condemn in the murmuring people (Num.  27:14; 20:10). When we become emotionally unglued, we risk adopting the very qualities we condemn in others.

Yet the sympathy that animates the dynamic between God and Moses is, at once, unyielding and tender. Although accountability can be harsh, still warm affection abides.

By stark contrast, hate-crimes degrade humanity and must meet firm and disincentivizing consequence. As we enter Shabbat, we pray for the healing of Rabbi Shlomo Noginski (Shlomo ben Zlata Miriam).

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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