Wednesday, April 30, 2014

His Job Is To Shed Light, And Not To Master (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Lady With The Fan")

For the most part, being American and living in Toronto is an exercise in reflecting upon some of the cuter cultural differences between American and Canadians, American Jewry and Canadian Jewry, and even cute cultural eccentricities. However there are those moments when I roll my eyes as an American citizen embarrassed at certain “American” behavior. There are also moments when I roll my eyes as a Jew embarrassed by certain “Jewish” behavior. I can’t remember the last time I hit the daily double, embarrassed or better yet, repulsed by Jewish American behavior. Not all American Jews think like, or behave like Donald Sterling, the owner for National Basketball Association (NBA) Los Angeles Clippers. Donald Sterling was born in Chicago as Donald Tokowitz to Jewish immigrants in the early 1930s. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was a small boy.  He added the last name Sterling when he was an adult. I don’t know how and when Donald Sterling became a racist.  Being a child of immigrant parents, one would think that he might have empathy in terms of what is to be different, to be discriminated against, to avoid being too Jewish in order to gain social acceptance in the late 1950’s and 1960’s America. It wasn’t so long ago that being Jewish did not possess a great amount of cache or “cool”. Yet this billionaire, who has been accused of discrimination before, seemingly has forgotten the vitally important lessons of Judaism and American history.  As an American, with immigrant parents, he better than anybody should know the evils of discrimination and the importance of living in a society in which the rule of law,  the content of character, and one abilities and gifts, must be the standard by which one is judged. As a Jew, with parents who came over from Eastern Europe, who just barely escaped the Holocaust, Mr. Tokowitz –Sterling, ought to keep in mind not only Jewish history of the past several centuries, centuries marked by anti-Semitism and slaughter, but even some of the more basic ideas of the Judaism, ideas that have made the Jewish people the greatest advocates of civil rights, anti-discrimination and defender of the downtrodden.

This week we read from Parsha Emor. The four chapters that comprise Parsha Emor focus on the various aspects of Perfection. First the Torah focuses upon the importance of the physical and spiritual perfection and purity of the Kohen. He must remain in a perpetual state of purity. He is restricted in terms of whom he can marry. He is restricted in regards for whom he can mourn. He cannot go to a cemetery. He cannot make sacrificial offerings if he has physical abnormalities. The second of the four chapters reminds B’nai Yisroel that when approaching God with an offering, the individual must be spiritually pure and perfect and so must the offering. These offerings must come directly from the individual making them and not from “the hand of a stranger” (Lev.22:25). The third chapter of the Parsha deals with the perfection and the purity of time. Time is define as perfect in the season follow an order, the holidays such as Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are designated to come in a particular order. That order is both pure and perfect since time and the designation of “Sacred” time comes from God. The fourth chapter speaks about maintaining purity and the perfection of physical space in this case the Mishkan, and all that is in the Mishkan. The Torah even deals with perfection and purity of human relationships and the punishments meted out when that perfection, purity and holiness is violated. In a sense, this last chapter reminds us of God’s charge to B’nai Yisroel.
Everything we do is designed to sanctify God’s name through deed. Whether attending to the Mishkan, the treatment of animals or of our fellow man, it all boils down to the sanctification of God. It is quite evident that the Parsha deals with both the “big picture” of human behavior.  V’Lo T’Challelu et Sheim Kodshi V’Nikdashti B’Toch  B’Nai Yisroel Ani M’KadishchemYou shall not desecrate my Holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am Hashem who sanctified you. HaMotzi Etchem Me’Eretz Mitzrayim Liheyot Lachem Leilohim, Ani AdoshemWho took you out of the land of Egypt to be a God unto you, I am Hashem.  (Lev.22:32-33). We are being reminded of our rather humble national origin, slavery. We are being reminded that because Hashem took us out from slavery, Hashem can make demands upon us. (RaMBaN).
Among those demands is that we are a nation of priests and a light to the nations. Throughout Parsha Emor, we have learned that besides the offering needing to be pure in order to be accepted by Hashem,  the Priest, the conduit, needs to be pure as well.  So when the conduit between the people and God, the Kohen Gadol, is impure, then the offering cannot be pure and therefore unacceptable. Mr. Sterling sadly forgot that very important fact. We are all examples to our families, our communities and the outside world. As a people, we are supposed to be a “light unto the nations”. We are supposed to be role models for the rest of the world. When individual Jewish behavior fails to sanctify the self, the other, and the relationship with Hashem, then the individual  forgets the raison d’etre for being brought out of slavery. When Donald Sterling and those like him are allowed to continue their behavior, then it becomes the responsibility of the Jewish community to shine an even bright light and to drown out that darkness of ignorance. Thankfully, Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, seems to recognize this.

Rav Yitz

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