We live in a world that is riddled with violence. Not a week goes by without some headline screaming out about innocent people, simply going about their business—at school or a café or a shopping mall—being gunned down by an emotionally disturbed individual or by a deliberate attack orchestrated by political/religious fanatics.
In addressing the second of these two killings, one suspects that the killers justify their behavior through their belief that anyone who doesn’t practice their particular brand of politics or religion is an enemy of God, and there is no justification in their remaining alive.
The truth is, the chances of any one of their victims being guilty of a capital offense is remote, to say the least. Even were that the case, killing people who pose no immediate threat is tantamount to murder. We are told in Deuteronomy 16:20 Tzedek, tzedek tirdoph! “You shall pursue only righteousness!” Someone who is accused of a capital offense must be brought to trial. There are no short-cuts to justice. As our patriarch Abraham (whom we share with Muslims) states: “Shall not the Judge of the earth do justice?” (Genesis 18:25)
We might well ask, “Just who are the enemies of God?!”
There is a great Midrash that speaks of the difference between a human sovereign and the Sovereign of all sovereigns. When a human ruler mints coinage, the coins all are identical, but when the Holy One, mints coins, (human beings) they all are differentiated. Point being; one important element of the glory of God is God’s ability to create a host of differentiated individuals each with his or her own tastes, looks, skills, characteristics and beyond. Nature’s boundless variety is a testimony to God’s greatness!
Even in my own family, I see a wide variety of individual tastes and other characteristics. I love to study Bible, Rabbinic literature and pray daily. I especially love classical music. It would be unfair for me to expect everyone else in my family to share all my tastes. On the other hand, we try to be supportive of one another’s tastes and preferences. In this sense my own family has been a microcosm of congregational life! Beyond that I have members of my family who have married outside of Judaism, who have or have had partners of the same sex and who attend a Unitarian Church.
These distinctions melt into oblivion in face of the fact that we share family love and a sense of mutual respect. I suspect that we are far from unique. In fact, I believe that we are typical of the American landscape.
I see Beth Ami as no different! I think it’s significant that our name is House of my People. People who come from all kinds of backgrounds and who represent all kinds of tastes. True we are a Conservative congregation, but I understand that to mean that we look at Jewish Tradition and Halachah to inform and guide our decisions. Some of these Laws and Traditions—especially those not explicitly in the Torah—came about in a context of mistrust, hatred and a sense of competition. To a great extent, I don’t believe this is typical of our current situation where religious leaders talk about the Judeo-Chrisitan tradition and values.
As a congregation, I see us an extended family. I want to see anyone—and I mean anyone—regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual preference, who comes under the shelter of our roof to sense that feeling of family love and support.
I believe this is the underlying model of a world that can truly experience Shalom—Peace!