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Parshas Pinchas - History, History, Oh History  18 Tammuz 5780

07/10/20 12:39:32

Jul10

I always try not to be an alarmist, but there is no question that the America of today is not, at least overtly, the America it was yesterday. Within my lifetime I have experienced extraordinarily little direct anti-Semitism. Growing up in Brooklyn we were called names but were never actually confronted. Yes, at times a car would drive by and the passengers would hurl insults ranging from our family members to the broader Jewish people. Sure, we heard and read about the way Jews were treated in other countries - such as the former Soviet Union - but here in America this felt more like benign anti-Semitic lip service, vocal slurs which some goyim felt obligated to fulfill. Today, however, It behooves every Jew to look around, to take stock of the openness of alarming rhetoric that is being openly spoken in blatant, unabashed fashion. We may think the adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me” is true. To the contrary words, repeatedly used in intentionally insulting ways lead to physical action and harm.

With that said, I would like to share two episodes that illustrate whether source of my concern and why I need to speak up. There have been two situations which I encountered within the last two months. One weekday morning while walking to Shul, a young woman got out of her car and proceeded to dig in a neighbor’s front yard. In my opinion, this young woman may have been homeless but did not fit the physical stereotypical impression of a homeless person. As she was kneeling on the ground, digging and covering, I stopped (at a safe distance) and asked her if everything was alright. At first, she ignored me, so I asked again if she was okay. She then jumped up, brandishing a small metal pipe-looking thing and began to yell obscenities at me. I tried to calm her down, to explain my well-intended concern, all to no avail as she continued her tirade. While I did not feel threatened in any way throughout her hysterics, but when she drove off, car tires screeching, she yelled some choice anti-Semitic choice slurs at me. This incident occurred just as the national demonstrations and riots were holding strong. I honestly believe this unfortunate woman has some mental health issues going on, but I do surmise that her ability to be so emboldened was a direct result of the atmosphere now wafting through communities all over the country.

The second incident took place last week at approximately nine thirty at night. I had to open the vehicle gate for someone. During those few seconds immediately after the gate closed, a tall, slender, African-American walked past me. As I began to slowly walk back home, , simultaneously checking messages on my phone as I usually do, I noticed this same individual at the intersection of Mesita and Rockford Dr. By the time I reached the intersection, this man was about three houses up, walking on Mesita Drive. I paused, cautiously crossing the street, still reading an email on my phone, when I heard a man yelling something. I stopped, looked up and saw this same man now approaching me quickly, yelling, “Why are you following me!” As he was about twenty feet away and I was now in the middle of the intersection, I said, “I am not following you, I am just walking home.” While returning this reply, I simultaneously realized that knowing I had only planned to go to the gate for a moment, I left my front door wide open! Immediately following my reply to him, the man burst into a major rant, hurling insults and accusations against me. He came all the way up to me and shoved his license into my face and said, “Look at my address! I live here!” Once again, in a futile manner, I tried to explain that I was not following him and intended no harm. Instead of just turning away and walking home, he did not believe me. He refused to budge. It was at that moment that I realized something was off and decided not to engage any longer. At this point, he backed off physically but verbally continued his verbal assault, ratcheting up almost to the level that could be construed as a threat. I decided not to challenge him by retorting, “Are you threatening me?” Baruch Hashem, it ended there, and nothing further developed after that night.

Of course, I realized that from his perspective he was “concerned that a fifty-six-year-old white-haired pot bellied Caucasian man was following him. I get it. But again, either he was not well mentally or had a momentary meltdown, and I was the convenient target. In both instances, more so in the second, I felt he was ‘inspired’ by the culture, emboldened to do what he did. I was particularly more stupefied in this more recent event by such erratic and potentially dangerous behavior, not knowing with what action, if any, I should follow up. Should I call the police and have a record on file or just let it be and dismiss it as a one-off occurrence? As time passed, I did not report anything regarding either of these occurrences.

My personal issue regarding this internal indecision of what to do, and the ramifications that could have ensued is troubling. There was a time in Jewish history where even the greatest leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘froze’, not knowing what to do. It took, Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon, to take matters into his own hands and diffuse the situation, putting an end to the plague that killed twenty-four thousand Jews. The verse at the end of Parshas Balak 25:7 states: וירא פינחס When Pinchas, a son of Elazar and a grandson of Aharon the priest, saw this he rose up from the midst of the assemblage and took a spear in his hand. In today’s climate we need to “open up our eyes and ears to see and hear “that which is taking place around us - both far and near.

We need to focus on two parts of the solution to weather any storm – both the physical the spiritual. We need to make our Hishtadlus, our efforts, in the natural way of the world. Second, and most important, we need to turn and ask for help from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Our prayers and our actions of Mitzvos must be fullhearted and with major sincerity. Our Bein Adom LaChaveiro - how we treat each other - must be stepped up to show the world who we are as a people, living Hashem’s Torah every day of our lives, thus sanctifying God’s name throughout the world in being MeKadesh Shem Shamayim BaRabim.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

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Tue, August 4 2020 14 Av 5780