Parashat Va'et'hanan Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
I have not been alone in my fascination this week with the aftermath of the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates. Yesterday's conference during which the four gentlemen mentioned above each imbibed his favorite American brew was a brilliant move in terms of leadership, of walking the talk, of role-modeling conflict resolution on a human scale and a lot more.
But it was also a very Jewish moment, impressive considering that there weren't actually any Jews at the table!
This past week, we observed the fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av) which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem centuries apart but on the same date. One rabbinic response to this calamity which appears in the Talmud is an admonishment to Israel: the Temple was destroyed because Israel forgot God's values and principles by indulging in bias and senseless hatred . . . or, in a parallel text, by indulging in libelous and destructive speech.
Some human foibles, apparently, never go away.
This Shabbat we read the very moving passage from Isaiah "Nachamu, nachamu ami" / "be comforted, be comforted My people." The healing process begins after the wounds have been opened up by prejudice and slander.
I don't know if life imitates art . . . but this week, life is imitating Torah.
How does this kind of healing take place? By reversing the forces of hatred and bigotry and replacing them with openness, courage and respect. The New York Times reported on the White House "beer summit", emphasizing that the press was not allowed within earshot of the table under the magnolia tree. But Professor Gates reported on a "pre-summit" exchange that, to my mind, reflects those healing characteristics:
"The two men [Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley] and their families first encountered each other in the White House library while each group was on individual tours of the White House on Thursday afternoon.
'Nobody knew what to do," Professor Gates said. "So I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, 'It's a pleasure to meet you.' That broke the awkwardness.'"
Nachamu, nachamu ami . . . that's how it's done.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.