Among the most profound and essential teachings of Judaism is that all human beings are created in the image of God as equals. In texts as early as the Mishna (200 CE), we read these enduring words:
Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world. And for the sake of peace among people, that one should not say to his or her fellow “My parent is greater than yours;” and that heretics should not say, “There are many powers in Heaven.” Again, to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow. Therefore each and every one is obliged to say, “For my sake the world was created.”
How did we get to this disheartening place where some seek to dominate and demean others because of the color of their skin? What lies behind the evil that is racism? Surely, we are not born capable of hating others? No, the inclination to hate others because of their appearance is learned from parents and elders, and is woven into the fabric of some communities. It must be said emphatically that Dylann Roof, the racist murderer who took the lives of nine souls studying the Bible in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, was not sick or demented. Such a conclusion amounts to an unacceptable excuse, a sweeping under the rug of what lies at the core of these killings: pure, unbridled racism.
How can a society heal itself? How can we confront an ugly truth, that our society has never fully become healed from the curse of racism? We must begin by being willing to confront this truth and talk about it openly. We must examine and confront overt expressions of racism that we see around us. (Recently, while waiting in line at the bank, I witnessed an abusive customer openly express a racial slur to a teller from India. I immediately wrote down my name and phone number and gave them to her, saying that I had witnessed this man’s racist rant and would say so given the opportunity. Three other customers who were in the bank then did the same.) And we must confront hidden expressions of racism, the ways in which we express racist tendencies subconsciously or without being fully aware that we are doing so. And we must return to our most basic Jewish teachings and values that tells us that all human beings are equal.
Does God have emotions? There are rabbinic statements that attribute to God compassion, anger, mercy and even loneliness. I’d like to think that there are times that God cries tears of sadness. We provoke God’s tears when we behave badly, when we do disappointing and destructive things. If there was ever a time for God to cry, it would be when a racist enters a House of Prayer, God’s home on earth, and in a violent rage takes the lives of human beings out of an act of hatred. God weeps tears of anguish when such things happen. And when God cries, it becomes our responsibility to wipe away the tears and resolve to never make God cry again. Now is the time for repentance and for meaningful and productive conversation that can bring about healing and wholeness.
This Shabbat morning, Oheb Shalom Congregation, along with congregations from all denominations of American Judaism across the country, will commemorate a “Shabbat of Solidarity Against Racism.” Our guest speaker will be the Pastor Terry Richardson of the First Baptist Church in South Orange. Dr. Richardson will speak during the service (at about 11:20 AM) about “Defeating Racism: Where Do We Start?” I hope that the Schechner Chapel will be full of people interested in hearing his message.