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Parshas Emor - Alarmist or Realist? The Changing Face of America

05/17/19 09:04:37


The role of the modern-day rabbi has evolved and continues to do so ever so quickly. Long gone are the days when communities and shuls sought out and then prided themselves with the great Talmidei Chachamim - incredible Torah scholars – who filled their beis medrash with learning. The need need for gifted orators who dazzled an audience with their command of the English language and a vocabulary the size of the dictionary is rapidly fading. Without going into any depth of discussion regarding the current needs and desired wants of a community or pulpit rabbi, I will state one common character trait that the rabbis of today and of yesteryear must attain……. leadership. One major issue is that the Semicha/Rabbinic ordination program does not offer a course on “leadership skill- building”. Typically, an aspiring rabbi learns through a great deal of Torah material in order to meaningfully teach and lead the Jewish people, enabling them to in turn become more learned. The young rabbi strives to nurture students and congregants alike to grow in their relationship with God. To reiterate, there are no classes, no lectures in political science or even Jewish history from which to glean essential factual material. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind I always wondered if, and when, I might need to speak about politics and about the landscape of American Jewry.

We are approximately three generations removed from the Holocaust. I grew up in- between the first and second post-Holocaust generation. The word ‘anti-Semitism’ was just that - a word. Sure, we knew what it meant, but we didn’t actively feel it every day on a national or even on an international level. Today however, is a different story. Truth be told, a relative of mine from Israel said, “No place is safe,” in a remark after the collective recent events which took place here in America. I was quick to respond, “I think America is very safe. Am I fearful to go outside, to walk down the block with my kippah on my head? No! Are there delusional, hateful individuals in this country who may not like what I stand for? Of course. But I don’t feel as though we are living in 1938 Germany.

Anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon in the world, and despite my lack of experiencing anti-Semitism when I was growing up, it was clearly there on the, lurking on heels of the Holocaust in the form of denying that the Holocaust had even occurred. The beginnings of the modern denial movement began in 1961. When David Hoggan published Der Erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War) in West Germany, claiming that Germany had been the victim of an Anglo-Polish conspiracy in 1939. Though Der Erzwungene Krieg was primarily concerned with the origins of World War II, it also down-played or justified the effects of Nazi anti-semitic measures in the pre-1939 period. Austin App, a La Salle University medieval English literature professor, is considered the first major mainstream American Holocaust denier. App defended the Germans and Nazi Germany during World War II. He published numerous articles, letters, and books on Holocaust denial, quickly building a loyal following. App's work inspired the Institute for Historical Review, a California center founded in 1978 whose sole task is the denial of the Holocaust. I have always harbored a deep fear of the deniers, particularly those who are protected by the First Amendment.. My greater concern, however, is focused upon elected officials who speak from the echelons of our government, professing historical knowledge. When popular mainstream newspapers become the platform for anti-Jewish rhetoric or when pervasive anti-Israel/Zionist (anti-Semitism in disguise) hatred is spewed across college campuses across the American landscape, I grow concerned. It is the first time in my life that I now see the clear need to formally act and speak out to protect the rights of our freedom and religion in this country. Of specific concern is the election of three new representatives – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tiaid of Minnesota, and Ilhan Omar of Michigan. All three representatives have made statements that reflect anti-Semitic tropes. All three are open supporters of BDS, the movement to boycott Israel. Ocasio-Cortez compared a migrant caravan trying to enter the U.S. illegally to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Omar has made numerous anti-Semitic statements invoking Allah to expose Israel’s “evil doings”. We may not be prolific authors who are able to pen op-ed articles or possess outstanding speaking talent, standing up at rallies speaking out on behalf of the Jewish people’s rights. We are, however, capable of taking a stand, refusing to support any vehicles which spread hate. Just take an example from one of the leading rabbis in our country who cancelled his subscription to the New York Times. It behooves all of us to write, call, or email our elected leaders - on both sides of the aisle - of Congress to censure those politicians who are re-writing history to fit their agenda. Some of you may be thinking I am overreacting. You know something - I hope I am for the safety and security of our people. Nevertheless, we need to say something because this, in reality, is an attack on Hashem, as I will explain.

In this week’s Parsha Emor we read about the blasphemer. In Vayikra 24:11 the Torah states: “ Vayikov Ben HaIsha Hayisraelite Es Hasheim VaYikalel, Vayavioo Oso El Moshe, V’Sheim Immo Shlomis Bas Divri L’Matei Dan”: “The Israelite woman’s son then blasphemed God’s name with a curse. The people brought him to Moshe. His mother’s name was Shelomith, daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan.” Rav Avraham Menachem Hacohen Rafeh from Porto, in his sefer Mincha Belula, a commentary on Chamisha Chumshei Torah, published in 1594, explains that the blasphemer cursed the ‘name’ in Hebrew. Hasheim are the same three letters that spell Moshe. In other words, he cursed God, but through Moshe. A few verses later in 24:15, the Torah repeats “Any man who curses his God will bear his iniquity.” The Zohar, quoting Rebbi Elazar, explains this in the following manner. When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they knew there were other world leaders who ruled over their people. These leaders had a connection or an alliance with the Jews in sharing the same belief in Hashem as the Jews. Hashem brought those leaders closer to Him to serve Him, which elevated them to the highest level of holiness. It is for this reason when the Torah says if any man curses Elokav (and singles out the word ‘Elokav’), it refers to any of the leaders who got close to Hashem. Even though they might worship other deities, nevertheless, I, Hashem says, “Chose them to be leaders in the world”. Therefore, ‘…anyone who curses them is cursing Me’. To review, if someone curses one of the non-Jewish leaders, he is held responsible as if he cursed Hashem, How much more so does this apply to someone who curses Moshe Rabbeinu, a leader of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people themselves are cursing Hashem!

As I see it, when leaders of the world speak out openly in favor of the Jewish people, they will be blessed. The flip side of this, however, is those who seek to vilify the Jewish people and their leaders will bear their own iniquity because their attack is, in actuality ,an attack on HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. The intent is not solely on Avraham Avinu, but rather the essence is the blessing and cursing of Hashem. We are witnessing the blasphemers of Hashem in our day and age. Any attack on the Jewish people is a desecration of Hashem’s name, and they will be punished just as the Mekalel was punished in our parsha. We should merit to see the fulfillment of the God’s word and witness the downfall of our enemies and the blessings of our friends speedily in our time.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780