A Special Message from Rabbi Strom

Dear Friends,
 
In the book of Genesis, after Cain kills his brother Abel in a jealous rage, God confronts Cain. “The blood of your brother,” God rebukes, “cries out to me from the ground.” In the Hebrew, however, the word “blood” – d’mei – is actually in the plural, so that a more accurate translation would be “the bloods of your brother cry out to me.”
 
Why is it in the plural, if only one man’s blood has been shed? Because, our Sages inform us, it is not just Abel’s blood that has been spilled, but the blood of his descendants, those who would have come after him but who now would never come to be as a result of the violence. Our tradition implores us to recognize that it is not just Abel, but his entire family line, that has been needlessly cut short.
 
Now, in the aftermath of the horrific events last week in Charlottesville, more blood cries out to us. The bloods of Heather Heyer, a young woman who risked her life standing up for what she always knew was right, cries out to us from the Virginia ground, where a hateful man ripped her life from this world, and tried to for many others, with his car. Her message, her values, her fight live on, but she does not, and we will never know what her descendants may have done. The bloods of Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates cry out to us from the Virginia ground, from the wreckage of their helicopter, deployed to keep watch on the demonstrations and coordinate appropriate responses.
 
But it is not just their bloods that cry out to us today. Sadly, theirs have joined the devastating chorus of the cries of history.  
 
The bloods of black families torn apart over so many generations as they were bought and sold in the ruthless slave trade; degraded, beaten, tortured, and murdered, solely for the “crime” of having been born with darker skin, for the perceived audacity in demanding basic human rights, let alone some semblance of equality. The bloods of our own Jewish forebears, similarly rounded up like stray animals throughout Europe and elsewhere, not so many decades ago, slaughtered in their homes, in the streets, exterminated in chambers of poisonous gas by Nazi soldiers and sympathizers.
 
They all cry out to us. And their cries have reached a nearly deafening pitch.
 
The midrash asks why God created all of humanity to stem from Adam, the first human being, rather than several progenitors. The answer the Rabbis give is that God did this intentionally so that no one could ever claim that his heritage, his family tree, was somehow better or more important than anyone else’s. If we all trace back to the same single ancestor, before Judaism or any other faith came into the world, before languages and cultures developed to add wrinkles of dimension to our existence, then there could never be a legitimate rationale for the assertion of superiority over other human beings. No skin color, religion, sexual preference, cultural heritage, socioeconomic status, skill set, or any other human variation, could ever be used to prioritize one person or group of people over any other. Because we all came from the same first person, and that person was created, as our Torah text is clear in stating, b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. And if we are all, as a result, created in the image of God, then there can never be any hierarchy of humanity in our world.
 
Unfortunately, last weekend’s events in Charlottesville continue to be a sobering reminder of how many people don’t yet, and perhaps never will, truly understand that. It is an alarm, waking us up once again to the shameful reality that bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacism are alive and well in our nation, now emboldened to rear their ugly heads in ways not seen in decades, no longer hiding just beneath the surface; that this can and does happen, even in 2017. They thought their lives, their so-called people were more important than anyone else’s. They thought their voices were more significant, more powerful than those of everyone else, everyone not like them.
 
But their voices will be drowned out. Not just by the cries of the blood they have spilled. Not even by the cries of the blood shed throughout history. While it certainly begins with their cries, the sound is now amplified by the voices of the many, the majority of people who know and understand what the Rabbis have endeavored for centuries to teach us. The voice of an unbreakable coalition of humanity from all walks of life that penetrate the ears of every single one of us, calling us to action, to stand up for what is right and what is good, to fight to ensure that the very rights and freedoms upon which this great nation was founded are applied equally and fairly to all, never eroded or cheapened by dangerous fallacies and false, hate-filled narratives. It is a call that can never fade, a voice that can never be muffled or silenced. A voice that says: You – whoever you are, whatever you are, with all of what makes you the human being you are – you are welcome here, your home is here, you are just as much a part of the beautiful rainbow of humanity as anyone else, a tapestry woven into the diverse fabric of our nation and our world, no matter what those filled with hate may say or do.
 
If we haven’t yet, now is the time to find our voices – individually and collectively – and use them for good. Use them to fight for equality and justice, to fight against the cancers of bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism, whenever and wherever they occur. Use them to teach your children, to speak with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, to engage in constructive dialogue, to speak honestly about what plagues our society, and what we can do about it. (You can find a wonderful example of this called Together at the Table, a “global grassroots Shabbat celebrating unity and diversity,” here.) Use your voices to promote love, harmony, and acceptance of all peoples; knowing, no matter the differences between us, that every single one of us was created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.
 
While we have come a long way in our nation’s history, it is clear that we have many, many miles to go before we sleep. As we seek to pick up the pieces and move forward, may we have the strength and courage to find our voices, join together, fight for what is right, and do all we can to make the world a better place for us, for our children, and their children. Because we are all created in the image of God.
 
Wishing all of us a Shabbat shalom, a weekend of peace and wholeness.
 
In peace, 
Rabbi Strom