2024: Remembering the Shoah, Seeking Holiness

left human hand photo
Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

This week in the Jewish calendar we come to an interesting, and perhaps symbolic meeting of two ideas. We shall observe Holocaust Memorial Day Sunday night through Monday (May 5,6) and a few days later, come to the Torah portion K’doshim. We begin the week remembering horror, cruelty, and the absence of the holy and end the week celebrating the value of holiness. And against all of this is the challenge, sadness and dangers associated with the war in Gaza. There are so many questions, so many challenges before us as we try and make sense of all of this and the competing emotions and texts that we will confront this week.
We here certainly have NO definitive answers to so much of what is confronting us. No doubt (we hope) that during the speeches, prayers, memories and reflections, there will be a call for reason, statesmanship and some restoration of a pathway to peace, and reconciliation. There is so much brokenness in the world that it is hard to cope. Maybe this is what the concept of tikkun olom is really about? What we must try and do is to try and find those moments, people, opportunities to repair that which is broken in the world. Maybe this starts one relationship at a time? Maybe this is so naïve to be meaningless, yet, to continue on the current road seems to invite the continual destruction of much of what we hold valuable. The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) referred to a concept that he termed a “covenant of human solidarity”. This is, I think, an idea that we are all related, in some very significant way, to each other. The divisions, like boundaries of countries, have been developed by other people, for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which were designs based on power, economics, and fear. From so much of this evolved the fear of the “other”. Human history, sadly, is a tale of creating and fostering division between people for those same reasons. The education of “the other” serves many purposes—mostly negative.
It is a flashback to the musical South Pacific. Remember that song “You’ve Got To Be Taught To Hate”? How true! How true still today! Juxtapose this with the portion of the week and the celebration of the ideal of holiness. Indeed, in the portion we read the famous line that we should “love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). There will always be the challenge of managing the delicate balance between injustice/evil and holiness. That is the way of the world. But maybe, somewhere, in this week where we look at such polarities of evil and holiness some people can be inspired to consider what we teach children, what we believe about others and how we model behavior. Maybe, just maybe, there will be enough people over time who see in others not “the other”, but a fellow traveler in this human covenant, another human being who, like us, strives to act humanely. Maybe, just maybe, we can do this so that our children and grandchildren and their children can live in a world not defined by power and fear but one of respect for the dignity of each human being.
Rabbi Richard F Address

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