Handsome responses to ugliness

“We have to show solidarity with Germany’s Jewish community” said a non-Jewish woman among the thousands rallying in Berlin this week. “By wearing a kippa, and putting a kippa on our child’s head, we demonstrate that we are all Jews when such attacks happen.”

A week ago an Israeli Arab had decided to wear a kippa to test the reaction.  He was filmed being verbally abused and physically beaten.  In response to a warning from a German Jewish leader that it was no longer safe for Jews to wear a kippa in the country’s big cities, thousands of Germans of all religions took to the streets on Wednesday wearing kippot to fight the alarming rise in anti-Semitism.

The lesson is telling,  The best response to chilling darkness is glowing light.  Incidents of hatred can be marginalized by nationwide benevolence.  Alas, there is little hope that hate crimes will decline in the near future.  But German citizens gathered this week to assert that such incidents won’t have the last word.

Interestingly, the last words of several verses among this week’s portions of Torah assert to the Children of Israel, “I am the Lord your God”.  In a single chapter (Lev. 19) the phrase concludes eight different verses.  Eight is the biblical number that signifies covenant which is why a Bris (covenantal circumcision) occurs on the eighth day.  God similarly self-identifies when beginning the Ten Commandments.  To drive the point home even more, the shortened phrase “I am the Lord” (ani Adonai) appears in the covenantal moment between God and Abraham (Gen. 15:7) and recurs precisely eighty times throughout the entire Torah.

Such numerical exactitude suggests these phrases aren’t just random sentence signatures.  Covenants bring people together in inspiring ways.  Covenants differ from contracts.  Contracts involve self-interest and mutual advantage.  Covenants are about moral commitments and are held together not by legalese, but by loyalty and faithfulness.  Contracts are about what we gain; covenants are about what we give.

Hatred, alas, is not as alien to the human condition in 2018 as we hope it someday will be.  But the way we read the Bible teaches that human history did not originate in sin.  It must not end with it either.

When we don’t like how a story ends, we must come together to give it a different ending.  By adding an appendix, we grant it a sacred postscript that can warm our faith in moral beauty.

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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