Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Take Me To The Reaper Man, To Pay Back What Was Loaned ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Mason's Children"

     This past Monday, Toronto experienced something that cities like New York, Boston, Paris, London, Jerusalem have all experienced. Toronto experienced a random act of violence that was designed to call to attention the perpetrator’s anger, disillusionment, and alienation. The recent tragic event that occurred on Yonge Street in North York might not considered to be an act of terrorism, that is to say, the politically/religiously motivated terrorism that we have all seen occur in other locales; driving down a side walk in a van and purposefully hitting pedestrians in a wanton act of random violence because the driver was angry, alienated, disillusioned and misguided still caused terror in the all those in the area at that time. His senseless act of violence caused terror in an entire city until he was apprehended.  Like all the other cities that have experienced wanton mass murder, whether by gun, bomb or car; I am always intrigued by how cities and its citizens respond. As a family, we went to the spontaneous memorials that have popped up along Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard. As a family we have noticed something different after the deaths of these Ten innocent people who were walking along Yonge Street on a beautiful spring day.

      This Shabbat, we read the double portion of Acharei Mot/Kedoshim. The Torah resumes its narrative following the death of Aaron’s two eldest son’s in Shemini (two Shabbatot ago). The narrative appeared interrupted with a presentation of the laws of purity and impurity found in Tazria/Metzorah. The Parsha begins with Moshe telling Aaron about the procedure the Kohen must undergo in preparation for atonement: both personal and communal. Essentially, this is the section of Torah that discusses the details of the Yom Kippur service, the scapegoat offering, the fasting, and sprinkling of blood. The Torah reminds us of the sanctity of blood; blood is life and as a result, we are prohibited from eating the blood of an animal. Following the presentation of of the Yom Kippur offerings and the sanctity of blood, the Torah spends the rest of Acharei Mot reminding us of those relationships that are considered to be sacred and those that are considered to be categorically unholy. Kedoshim which literally means “Holy”, continues the theme that Acharei Mot introduced. There are sacred/holy relationships and unholy relationships. In every instance when the holy and the unholy presents itself, Moshe tells us to choose the holy relationship. Every seemingly mundane activity including: the treatment of employees, the treatment of customers, idolatry, every human relationship is distilled to the most common element. Every mundane act, every mundane human interaction has the potential for achieving a degree of Holiness.

     No commandment within the Torah indicates the tension between base primitive emotions (human instinct) and holiness (Godly instinct) more than the idea of revenge. Lo TiKom V’Lo TiTor et Bnai Amecha You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against member of your people (Lev. 19:18). V’Ahavta L’Rei’acha K’Mocha Ani Adoshemyou shall love your fellow as yourself – I am Hashem (Lev. 19:18). Revenge is a primary instinct. Someone hurts us or our loved ones, we want to return the hurt. Someone insults us, we want to return the insult. A young man who has been described as socially awkward, who was disillusioned and alienated decides to rent a van and drive it on a sidewalk for the sole purpose of killing as many people as possible. Our children were amazed that the policeman didn’t shoot the man even though he repeatedly made threatening motions with what turned out to be a cell phone. Our son sacastically commented that if we were back in the States, the police officer would have shot him, especially if he was a man of color.  No doubt some would have hailed that policeman as a hero. Even after his arrest and arraignment, we can all appreciate any family member or friend of the ten who were murdered and the fifteen who were injured wanting this murderer to suffer, and eventually die. I have no doubt that in the moment the murderer told the cop to shoot, there were those who felt the policemen should have obliged him, and killed the man on the spot. Revenge probably would have left us with a sense of closure, ‘that he got what he deserved”. Yet the Torah tells us that we are supposed to figure out a means by which we rise above our basest human emotions (even if those emotions are justifiable). The point is that emotions are human.  What makes us holy is our actions and behavior. Acting on our emotions without thought, without concern, with out some type of check or balance makes us comparable to animals. We are supposed to strive to be be better than the animals. Better than the four legged variety or the two legged variety who doesn’t know how to channel or deal with his emotions.

     Our son pointed out the difficulty of Judaism. Judaism recognizes basic human emotions. However, to be Holy to be Kodesh, to be separate and distinct means to separating emotions from deed and action.  Yes, it is easy to separate one day of the week from six days. Yes, for some it is easy to separate milk and meat.  No one would disagree that treating those who are most needy in our community with dignity and respect demonstrates a degree of holiness and decency for that matter. Yet such a person has not caused harm or brought terror to us. So how do we elevated ourselves when dealing with terror, anger, fear, and death? Our children felt something when we went to the memorials. They found a sense of comfort. While nothing brings back the deceased, we found solace on Yonge Street. We discovered that a community and a society has within it, the ability to strive towards holiness Acherei Mot – after death.

Rav Yitz

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