Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Sin of Racism

The prophet Amos lived in Israel 3 thousand years ago. He fought for justice and human dignity. Last week’s first parashah (Acharey Mot) has a corresponding haftarah from the Book of Amos. This Haftarah commences with the following words: “Behold the Children of Israel, you are like Africans to Me [no different], like the Children of Ethiopia” (Amos 9:7). Amos reminds us Jews that our spiritual election is a call for moral and spiritual excellence, and for leadership by example. And that all humans are in the Divine image, and thus our dignity and rights are intrinsic, a-priori, and non-negotiable. Even though Amos articulated these precious and holy words more than three millennia ago, their urgency and timeliness is all-too-sordidly contemporary.

We have all watched with concern the events in Baltimore last week. What’s more appalling than a group of policemen who arrest a young man who did NOTHING, attack him physically for no reason, and the consequent death of this human being?! Imagine that this young man was Jewish. Feel the outrage pouring out, the anger, the indignation, and the natural desire for justice and retribution against the aggressors. That’s exactly what we feel in this case too. There’s absolutely no difference. There’s no difference between antisemitic attacks, or attacks against any other ethnic or cultural group. They are just as despicable, abhorrent and ungodly. That’s what Amos taught us and reminded us more than three millennia ago. Namely, that our shared humanity makes us all precious and sacred in G-d’s eyes. Little wonder that the great Dr. King famously loved quoting a celebrated verse from Amos, the Hebrew prophet, namely: “Until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).

Amazingly, as the events in Baltimore took place, an uproar ensued in Israel over the unprovoked beatings of an Ethiopian Jewish young Israeli soldier by two cops. The event was videoed. This was the straw that broke the Jewish Ethiopian Israeli community’s back. Mass demonstrations and protests ensued throughout Israel. And justifiably so. I watched on Israeli TV an Israeli Ethiopian woman, a deputy mayor of an Israeli city, recount how one time she wanted to enter an event she was invited to, and was barred entrance. When she told the cop that she is the deputy mayor, the cop laughed and said: “Why don’t you claim for yourself an even more senior position?” Someone had to come outside, so that she could enter the place. As I watched this anecdote recounted, I felt emotionally upset and teared up. This is how we all feel. As Jews and as part of the universal human family. The Torah states that the greatest Jewish leader of all times, Moses, married an African woman. Rashi adds that she was also beautiful. Jews come in all ethnicities. We are blessed to be a religion and a spiritual family in which all the different ethnic groups are represented. The same applies to the United States, and to humanity as a whole. Our diversity is a blessing and a source of celebration, rather than a cause for lamentation. It only underscores and highlights our common humanity and intrinsic equality. It is an expression of G-d’s Will and vision for His world. To disrespect it, is akin to injuring God’s Will and image. Racism, like all forms of prejudice, is a social ill, and a spiritual sickness. It must be eradicated and fought against tenaciously, vigorously and uncompromisingly.

The next time we hear someone make a disrespectful or prejudiced remark against any human group, let us not stand idly by, and let our voices and indignation be heard and known. We should have no fear or hesitation about doing so. For when we do this, we are fulfilling G-d’s Will and God’s vision, we are achieving Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of G-d’s name throughout the world).

Shabbat Shalom to us, all of Israel, and all of humankind.
Rabbi Sessler

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