Thursday, May 11, 2023

In This Moment: "We don't have to live this way" - Guns, "Fear itself" and the driven leaf; Gaza again

In This Moment

A dire warning from this week's Torah portion

is becoming frightfully real in our violence-infested world.

Shellshocked people running from even the most minute whoosh

of a leaf floating in the breeze

But we don't have to live like this.

That's the message readers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

saw in the wake of their recent mass murder.

And now another has happened near Dallas.

And another.

And another.

Leviticus reminds us with these warnings

never to assume that we are somehow insulated from calamity.

And therefore we should never become numb to the calamities of others.

And we should never simply run and hide

or succumb to the fear of what appears inevitable.

It is not.

See the warning below and Rashi's commentary

and check out Leviticus 26.

It's called the Tochecha - the "Great Scolding."

The Tochecha seems to be implying that, with all the horrific things that can happen, the most dangerous fear is fear itself. We all fall victim to it from time to time - even Moses, arguably the most brazen figure in Jewish history, who killed the taskmaster and led the people through the Red Sea. But before he fought the imposing King Og of Bashan, God had to remind him, "Do not fear" (Numbers 21:34).

We've now convinced ourselves that gun violence is unpreventable. That numbs us and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. We're afraid even to bring up the subject each time there is an attack - there are so many. Leviticus is saying that doesn't have to be the case, and that the solution begins with the conquest of fear itself, which can bring about the end of our paralysis. One way to overcome fear the next time you find yourself running and hiding from whooshing leaves (an image that inspired the classic novel, "As a Driven Leaf" - though as described in Job 13:25 - by Rabbi Milton Steinberg), try the final verse of one of our most familiar prayers:

Into God’s hands I entrust my spirit,

when I sleep and when I wake;

and with my spirit, my body also:

 Adonai is with me, I will not fear.

(Last stanza of Adon Olam , composed by Solomon ibn Gabirol)

But we do live this way

And children are dying

Fulfilling those dire warnings of Leviticus....

How do we respond? See this article from the Forwardsuggesting that to end gun violence, we should look to the economics that helped end racial segregation. See also this from the Religious Action Center.

Israelis should not have to live this way...

With hundreds of rockets fired indiscriminately into Israel this week (which also featured the first use of the new David's Sling defense system) and a synagogue attacked in Tunisia.

Jews should not have to live this way...

This just in...

Action Alert for Jewish Institutions from ADL

Overview:  During the first week of May, multiple Jewish institutions across the country received threatening antisemitic messages via their online contact forms. These messages included references to Zyklon B tablets, the name of the poison used by Nazi Germany to murder more than one million people – most of them Jews – in the death camps during the Holocaust. These incidents mirrored incidents that occurred in January 2023 and the Fall of 2022. At this time, there is no known credible threat emanating from these messages, and the FBI is actively investigating.   


Background: As noted in the 2022 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, Jewish institutions across the country received twenty threatening messages through the contact form on their websites in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign. The threatening and harassing messages were all sent between September and November and featured similar language, including references to Zyklon B tablets. Another similarity is that in most of the cases, the sender(s) completed the contact forms using the names of various so-called First Amendment auditors — individuals who film themselves “testing” the constitutional knowledge of government employees. It is believed that these individuals’ names were used to misdirect attention away from the responsible parties. Although some First Amendment auditors have been known to harass synagogues, antisemitism is not a routine part of most auditors’ activity.  


Recommendations for the Community:  

  • If at any time you feel that you may be in danger, contact law enforcement immediately. 
  • If you receive a threat through your institution’s online contact form, please notify ADL, via your regional office or through the online incident reporting portal at  Take screen captures in order to memorialize the information.   
  • Contact your IT department or web provider in order to obtain IP address information on the sender of these messages. This will assist our law enforcement partners in their efforts to identify the sender.  
  • ADL is here to support the community during these incidents and for any other matters relating.

Recommended Reading

For more on Gaza

  • See also Israel bombs civilians in Gaza. But Israelis don’t want to know (Ha'aretz) - No Israeli official has claimed that those planning the air force mission didn't know that women and children would be killed. On the contrary, the most senior military official in Israel stated flatly that those briefed on the operation knew that family members and neighbors of the three Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders targeted were in danger, considered the consequences of firing missiles at them, and decided to deem their deaths necessary collateral damage.

Today's Israeli Front Pages

Yediot Achronot

Ha'aretz (English)

Jerusalem Post

Headline below states, "More than 450 Rockets in 7 Hours"

And earlier this week...

Yediot's front page from Sunday: Top headline says, "Finally, King!" Below the fold on the left, more harrowing news: "Every 32 hours a person is murdered in Israel." "Three last weekend alone." It's not just terrorism that they are talking about. See this article about an epidemic of gun violence there too, especially in Arab communities. And the right bottom headline notes the "18th week" of mass protests against the judicial coup.

Parsha Packets for Behar - Bechukotai

The Leviticus Project

One must be exceedingly careful to not publicly embarrass their friend, whether a child or adult, nor to call them a name that they are ashamed of, or to say anything in front of them that they may be embarrassed by. - Maimonides

Stealing Truth: Is it ever OK to deceive? - The Torah states (Leviticus 25:14): "If you sell something to your neighbor or buy something from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not wrong one another." The Talmud interprets this verse to refer to overcharges and undercharges.

Tochecha: The Great Scolding - The “Tochacha” (Rebuke) is read twice a year: once during the forty-nine days of counting the Omer leading to Shavuot which commemorates the giving of the Torah, and again in the month of Elul before the High Holidays, calling us to repentance, to reconsider our paths. See also Tochecha The Art of Rebuke (Hartman curriculum)

  • The case for some climate optimism (Semafor) - Young people, especially those in richer countries, can afford to be more optimistic about the future. There are lots of good-news stories about climate change which don’t get the attention they deserve. Things really have moved in the right direction. One of my very favorite examples is the graph showing the cost of solar panels. Back in 1975, each watt of additional solar capacity cost $100. By 2010, that was less than a dollar. Now it’s 27 cents. Current solar prices are way below what IPCC models predicted they would be in 2050. The price of lithium-ion batteries per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, fell by 97% between 1991 and 2018. They’re also longer-lasting and higher capacity than they used to be.

  • Join us for our Intro to Judaism class on Kashrut ond Jewish Food Values on Thursday night at 7, on Zoom. Here are the supplementary materials for this topic. "Feast on" these in advance.

Jewish Values and Food, Part 1

Jewish Values and Food, Part 2

Click here or below to see Noa Tishby's full Tweet and video

  • Amy Spitalnick Selected as JCPA's Next CEO - Community leaders across the Jewish, civil rights, interfaith, and democracy spaces commended the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) for its selection of Amy Spitalnick as its next CEO. Spitalnick – a powerful national voice on issues of democracy, antisemitism, extremism, and hate – will take the helm of JCPA as it enters a new chapter with a sharpened focus on coalition-building to support a just, democratic, and pluralistic society and combat hate, discrimination, and extremism. Spitalnick (who has spoken at TBE) most recently served as the Executive Director of Integrity First for America, which won its historic lawsuit against the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and hate groups behind the Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville.

  • In Defense of Surrender in Liberal Jewish Life (Sources) - In light of our fear of submitting, how can we embrace surrender?  This question is even more pointed in this time of rising religious extremism, when the destructive and divisive effects of submission to authority are rampant, and amplified in each day’s newspaper. How do we liberal Jews shape a religious life that is engaged and disciplined, that is open to surrender, that allows us to experience a sense of wholeness and unity, and that takes us beyond ourselves?    

  • The Wheels of Jewish Language in the New Netflix Show "Rough Diamonds" (Mosaic) - And so Rough Diamonds goes: from episode to episode, from Yiddish to Flemish to French to English, wheel within wheel, as it were, with Yiddish the inner wheel of the ḥasidic community of Antwerp, English the outermost wheel of the wide world, and Flemish and French in between. The Wolfsons spin with these wheels, turning and being turned by them. Rough Diamonds demonstrates how language serves equally as identity and as means of communication, and how it is sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both. Not, though, when it’s dubbed.

Stones (Shirley Kaufman, 1996)

When you live in Jerusalem you begin

to feel the weight of stones. You begin to know the word

was made stone, not flesh.

They dwell among us. They crawl

up the hillsides and lie down on each other to build a wall.

They don’t care about prayers,

the small slips of paper

we feed them between the cracks.

They stamp at the earth

until the air runs out

and nothing can grow.

They stare at the sun without blinking

and when they’ve had enough,

make holes in the sky

so the rain will run down their faces.

They sprawl all over the town

with their pitted bodies. They want

to be water, but nobody

strikes them anymore.

Sometimes at night I hear them

licking the wind to drive it crazy.

There’s a huge rock lying on my chest

and I can’t get up.  

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