The Blessing to Speak Out & the Purpose of Protest

See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. (Devarim 11:26)

ראה אנכי נותן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה

The Torah goes on to explain that the blessings and curses result from our choosing to follow God’s commandments and live a life of purpose and meaning.

This week, I understand the verse differently.

Each of us has the responsibility to see both the blessings and curses around us. There is tremendous goodness and opportunity for making a positive difference and, simultaneously, the opportunity for evil and hatred to rear their ugly heads in the world around us.

The events of the past week in Charlottesville, VA prove this premise so vividly. The murder of Heather Heyer and the ensuing fallout are powerful demonstrations of the curses in our midst.

Where are the blessings?

We still have many blessings. We live in a great country which affords us many freedoms to live Torah lives of purpose and meaning. We have a State of Israel which provides an additional path for our religious and spiritual lives to flourish. We have the blessings of family, friends, community, and (hopefully) health.

We also have the blessing to be able to choose a path of tolerance and love and promote this path to anyone around us who will listen. We have the blessing to speak out.

We must speak out against the hatred in Charlottesville and all forms of hatred. We need to protest the rising hatred and intolerance of the right as well as the left. We should expect – and demand! – moral clarity from the President and all of our leaders as well as ordinary citizens.

Is speaking up enough? Will anyone listen to the protest?

It’s a start.

Elie Wiesel tells the following story that sheds light on the purpose of protest. (“Words from a Witness,” p. 48)

One day a Tzadik came to Sodom. He knew what Sodom was, so he     came to save it from sin, from destruction.

He preached to the people. “Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent.”

He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years.

Finally someone asked him, “Rabbi, why do you do that? Don’t you see it is no use?”

He said, “I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me.”

We have to remind ourselves there is hatred – even if we cannot change all minds and hearts. We need to talk about this hatred with our family, friends, and community. We need to protest in whichever forum we can access. At least, we will ensure that we stand firm in our commitment to love, tolerance, and respect.

This Shabbat, one organization is promoting an initiative to encourage Shabbat table discussions about values and morality. I think it’s a fantastic idea! We need to speak and educate ourselves, our families, and our communities about these topics which are often taken for granted and don’t get the headlines they deserve. If not us, then whom?

See the blessings and the curses. Embrace the blessings and speak out against the curses. We may not change the world, but we will strengthen ourselves and each other.

About the Author
Rabbi Elie Weinstock is Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. A believer in a Judaism that is accessible to all, he prefers "Just Judaism" to any denominational label.
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