Recently, I have been thinking a lot about bias and hate and the power of our words. The past few weeks there has been renewed discussions about anti-Semitism from the left and the right. What is our role? How do we stand up? Which is worse? What is the connection to Israel? While some have offered clear cut answers, what is clear to me, is that many Jews feel called upon to respond, or at the very least to have an opinion.
This week our Torah portion is about answering God’s call. The third book of the Torah is called Vayikra - and God called. In English, it is Leviticus, the book about the Levites or priests. We are told in Leviticus that all of us are to be to God a holy nation, a nation of priests. God calls out to Moses and instructs him and the Israelites about sacrifices and how they should be conducted.
To me, the calling out and the sacrifices are connected. I often share my belief that anything meaningful, anything worthwhile, anything of significance, involves sacrifice, and often risk. God calls out to us, it is us who hear the call and have to respond. If that response is easy, if it does not take effort, it’s probably not the right response.
Therefore, what is the response when we hear the call of anti-Semitism? It’s not to simply post on social media, or read an article, or restate your opinion. These actions are responses but they often don’t make a real difference. A real response, one that involves sacrifice and risk, involves engaging someone in a conversation, it involves listening and forming relationships and a desire for mutual understanding.
Our Cheltenham Area Multi-faith Council is sponsoring a workshop at Gratz on Sunday, March 31 around civil conversations as part of a citywide effort in this area (more information here). Having the courage to really get to know the other, to seek to understand, to listen to someone else created in God’s image is core to our faith and core to defending our faith.
This week in our tradition, we read about a nation that tried to destroy us - Amalek as part of Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim. However, when we read the Megillah, we find that it was Esther and Mordechai’s relationship with the king that saved them in the end. It was their desire to know the other.
Real sacrifice, like the one the Torah describes, takes effort and risk and time and devotion. That is why the word for sacrifice is Korban - meaning to draw close to God. Only by making an effort to do something hard, to get to know the other, can we really draw close to God and strengthen our faith.
Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler