Thursday, April 18, 2013

Parashat Acharei-Kedoshim – Boston Marathon Bombings

            Earlier this week, our country saw a terrible act of violence disrupting a great American tradition – the Boston Marathon bombings. Although suspects have not yet been apprehended and questioned, and we don't what their motive really was, this is a clear act of terrorism. Violence for the sake of violence, disrupting runners and spectators, attacking innocent people without a clear political agenda, these bombs seem to have been for the sole purpose of instilling fear and anger in the hearts of the American people. But they failed. What has amazed me most about the events of Monday was not just the absurdity of terrorism or how someone could be so cruel, but how immediately the rest of the city and country stepped up.
            The second portion of this week’s parasha, in Kedoshim (my favorite parasha), G-d tells Moses to speak to the people of Israel, saying “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your G-d am holy.” The outpouring of support for the people of Boston, those hurt, grieving, or traumatized, has shown the capacity for holiness that lies in each of us. The Torah says, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” When the bombs went off, spectators who were far enough to be physically safe, jumped the race’s barriers, and ran toward the sound of the explosions to start helping the injured. Once the ambulances had been called volunteers, spectators, and runners that had already finished all banded together to tear away all the volunteer booths and roadblocks to let the emergency vehicles through. Runners behind the explosions heard what had happened, changed courses and ran all the way to the nearest hospitals to give blood to the injured.  Kodoshim says, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your G-d.” Families of the injured rushed to the hospital and others who were stranded without a way home or a place to stay in Boston after the explosion found themselves overwhelmed with options as many people in and around the city opened up their homes on an open google doc offering guest beds, cots, and couches to whoever needed them. There were no strangers in Boston that day, only houseguests the hosts hadn’t met yet, embraced and loved as a fellow Bostonian. And all those Boston Irish Catholics weren’t even slaves in the land of Egypt.
            To look at the bright side, to be inspired at the love and support that came immediately to those who needed it in the aftermath of the violence does not mean that we are not also sad that four people have died and many injured or that we are not angry at the terrorists responsible. In our anger, though, it is important to hone it to a positive end. To help the police and the FBI with any information we might come across, to continue to follow the story and help out in any way they still need. Only a handful people remain in critical care, but it is never too late to give blood to the Red Cross, and although the hospitals are not as flooded with the sudden influx of patients that they were Monday, they might still enjoy the pizza donations many have been sending to the hungry, exhausted, overwhelmed first responders this week via Random Acts of Pizza on Reddit. We should not use our anger to hold onto hate, fear, or hopes for vengeance in our hearts. This week’s parasha says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people.” We can and should hope those responsible are caught and put to justice, but that does not mean we call for anything extreme. Maimonides says in the Mishneh Torah that if we have the chance to rebuke our fellow who has sinned against us, and we don’t do it, we incur some of the guilt, for if he acts again, we could have prevented it. But if we hate him, and hold grudges, and turn to vigilante justice, than we bear the sin of violence against him just the same. The Torah says to love your neighbor as yourself, not just the neighbors who are easy to love, and Rabbi Akiva says this is the cardinal rule of Judaism. The Baal Shem Tov reminds that we must love the lowliest of humans as much as the greatest Torah scholar. The Jerusalem Talmud explains we can avoid acting or feeling vengeful by remembering that if one hand, while chopping vegetables for dinner, slips and cuts the finger of the hand holding down the vegetables that hand should not rise up and cut the finger of the first hand in retaliation. As each of our hands are a part of our whole person and we would not harm one part of our bodies to avenge the other, so too should we view each other as a part of our whole community under G-d, and we should not harm one who has harmed us just for the sake of revenge.   
            As we continue to heal and search for those culpable in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, let us all focus on the love and support that has come out in reaction to the horror, and only use our sadness and anger toward a productive end in the pursuit of justice. May a speedy r’fuah sh’eima – a complete recovery – come to those who need it, and may we all find peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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