Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
On Sunday, April 19th, at 3:00 p.m., Congregation Emanu El will host this year’s community-wide observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The juxtaposition of Holocaust Remembrance day, officially observed on Wednesday, April 15th, and this week’s Torah portion is meaningful.
Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-14) deals with unseemly and unsightly physical conditions that render people unclean. When they’re labeled a Metzora they must dwell outside the community. Though the word is odd, the results are akin to lepers. They were isolated from the community until they were clean. Then they made expiation for whatever transgression infected them in the first place. In the past, the rabbis wondered what was this Tzara’at that caused infected people to be isolated from others? When they examined the word “Metzora” they saw something unique.
In the word metzora, they saw “motzi” (m^tz), which means “to bring forth”. They also saw “ra”, which means “evil”. And, they included “Shem”, which refers to God’s name, i.e. motzi (shem) ra. That is, the real metzora is the “one who gives currency (value) to an evil report.” What is this evil that offends God and destroys communities? They taught that the evil tongue (Lashon Hara), which is gossip, hearsay, and rumors is the worst offense. The evil tongue, they taught, destroys the entire Torah. In a Jewish folk story, it was compared to someone who tore apart a feather pillow and then tried to collect the feathers that were carried off by the wind. As we know, it’s impossible to put back what has been torn asunder.
The Holocaust was rooted in tzara’at and the evil acts of the metzora. Every metzora, from Hitler to every complicit man and woman, violated the covenant that God made with human beings; not just with Jews, but with all sons and daughters of Noah. The propaganda campaign created by Hitler and Goebbels, his public relations head, planted the seeds of hate and enmity against the Jews. With vile lies and evil words, they turned once dignified German Jews into the likes of vermin to be rooted out and destroyed. Their full wrath fell upon the Jews and other outcasts, but Truth was ultimately revealed at the end of the war. Though too late in our opinion, the covenant of humanity withstood the onslaught of Hitler’s regime. The covenant of humanity, which we defend and on which we rely, rose up against Hitler’s machine and dealt it a final blow. At the cost of 6 million Jewish lives we remember each year, we now know that the threat of propaganda that can tear apart a people, a continent, and a generation. It’s a force that must be contained.
Love and hate begin in words we have the responsibility to choose to speak. Once they leave our lips, they are carried away by the wind no less than feathers from a pillow. Words fly away, become twisted, discolored, and misshapen by the ears that hear them. If our words begin with love, at worst they might become simple affections. But, if our words begin with hate, they might end up as indifference, which is worst of all. Elie Weisel wrote, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” Love and hate are human emotions. We can work with love and transform hate. But, indifference is anathema to being human. The privilege of being a human being includes the ethical responsibility to honor the act of creation that gives us life.
On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, let’s admire the gift of our lives, and the responsibility we bear to speak words of dignity and respect, honor and hope.