Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Thirty-six times the Torah commands, “The stranger you should not mistreat, nor should you oppress him as you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. The Torah text is succinct, leaving much room for commentaries. Among them is a Midrash, a rabbinic interpretation, that implores us, “Do not scold your neighbor with a fault which is also your own” (Mekhilta 18). The rabbis connected the Torah text to our collective Jewish memory. Just as we read in the Passover Haggadah, “My father was a fugitive Aramean,” we are taught to see ourselves, and therefore our “fault,” as having been slaves and then redeemed from slavery.
As Jews, we are inextricably tied to our past. As a result, we have no choice but to learn from it and to live by the lessons that have come down to us. Now, it’s our duty to translate the commandments for our times. Beginning with the moral imperative not to mistreat the stranger or oppress him, let’s use the word “immigration,” not as a pejorative, but rather as the intentional objective of those who languish in war-torn and oppressive lands to reach a land known for welcoming the tired, poor, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Every immigrant refugee who comes to these shores has been vetted sometimes over months or years. There are some who fail to keep their promise to us, but let’s not fail to keep our promise to them. In light of recent failures to them, our nation has been horrified by burning of mosques, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and bomb threats to JCC’s and synagogues. All of it emerges from consequences of our failures to bear witness to our sacred texts. No one should be indifferent to or stand idly by when we or our neighbors face the indignity of such failures. It’s too easy to resolve that we’re all immigrants. It’s more important to say that we’re the beneficiaries of our ancestors who saw this country for what it meant to them and, therefore, to us. If we fail in our lessons from Torah, then we will have failed our parents and their parents, too.
After recent threats to JCC’s and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the Houston Jewish community received a letter from the Muslim community, signed by 26 leaders of the Houston Muslim community representing over 120,000 Muslims. They wrote:
“Fellow faith leaders, we offer these words of support to the Jewish community in Houston who have seen a rise in anti-Semitism through bomb threats, vandalism, and hate speech in our country, and most notably, a bomb threat at the JCC of Houston. These despicable acts do not represent the fabric of our city, state or that of our nation. We stand next to you saddened and shocked by the actions of those who have not had a chance to learn about you, your families, and your faith. As the Jewish and Muslim communities, along with all other minorities, face a growing wave of dissent because of the political winds, know that the Muslim community continues to, and will always stand with you and your families against anti-Semitism. We will not allow the seeds of hate to sprout in our city without fierce resistance. Know this day, and know this always, an attack on a person of Jewish faith is an attack on all of us. We will always stand together.”
Faith is not a guarantee of the future we wish to see. Yet, if we will bear witness to the faith that has been bequeathed to us, then we may enjoy what Midrash also taught, “I, God, have given you many laws, but also much reward.”