Monday, March 26, 2012

A meditation on the Jews of Toulouse, France

In Memorium: Toulouse, France.-A Meditation
Students asked their Rabbi, “Why did God create a single person at the time of Creation? The sage answered to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, Scripture reckons it to that individual as though the person had destroyed a whole world; and whoever saves a single life, Scripture reckons it to the person as though that individual had saved a whole world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).
What we saw this week in Toulouse, France was how one man, so filled with hate and so callous to humanity, destroyed an entire world. As a matter of fact Mohammed Merah destroyed at least four Jewish worlds. The worlds and dreams of children, worlds just beginning to form, were destroyed on Monday. The world of a young Rabbi who committed his life to swim in the Yam HaTalmud, the ocean of Jewish knowledge was destroyed this week. And what we have left today are tears of bereaved mothers, fathers, schoolmates, grandparents, extended families, nations and maybe even HaKodesh Baruch Hu who will shed tears for the fallen. Yes the world has been destroyed for all those who have fallen and certainly for us our world should feel diminished.
Yes the Shabbat commands us to rejoice and not to mourn and so how can we mourn the loss of life on this day? Shabbat is a respite from the work of humanity. It is a day of rest, but, on this night can we share some of that sacred time reserved for our Creator with the Jewish world that is reeling in pain? Can we share that precious time in solidarity with Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, who are praying and reflecting upon the meaning and meaninglessness of these murders? Again we are perplexed as to how one man can destroy so many worlds? Unfortunately we know all too well what it feels like to struggle but never fully grasp evil in humankind.
There are more questions than answers to these recent murders but isn’t that always the case when we try to understand human cruelty and barbarism? We look at the Mishnah wondering out lout ‘why God must we share the same human ancestry with men like Mohammed Merah? Judaism teaches in the same Mishnah that God created a single person for the sake of peace among human beings, so that a man should not say to his fellow:  “My father is greater than your father.”  When we read that phrase in this ancient text, we sadly acknowledge how far humanity can fall from this ideal.
The next part of this Mishnaic statement exclaims that” one single person was created to prevent the heretics from saying that there are many divine powers in heaven, each one responsible for the Creation of a different human being. “History is replete with religious wars and conflicts in the world. Today we see that the battle is not one religion against the other but a group of adherents who claim the one God belief but who besmirch the goodness of the monotheistic religions and corrupt them by the way they behave. The fact that someone like Mohammed Merah and others who fall into his psychosis of religious fervor and who do not hesitate to shoot children and their father at point blank range or their three co-religionist French paratroopers. Is their end game to foment chaos that will turn French society against itself? That, I believe, is their plan and their perverted messianic hope when someday that kind of violence will spark a revolution to achieve their political and theological goals.

The final part of this Mishnaic maxim is “To proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, praised be He.  If a human being stamps several coins with the same die, they all resemble one another.  But the Sovereign of Sovereigns, the Holy One, praised be He, stamps all human beings with the die of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles the other. 
Therefore every human individual is obligated say; “For my sake was the world created.”
When people perform criminal acts like murder in the name of their faith they destroy that faith and, in particular, they destroy the idea of God is Great.  If human beings violate the teachings and show so little regard for human life they not only discredit themselves and their cause but the entire religion they claim is so sacred.
This passage is trying to teach us that we are all unique and special even though we share all the physical attributes of human beings with each other. Religious fanatics reject the belief that each person is sacred and rob a person from the opportunity to make holy this world. I was somewhat relieved to see the chief Imam and Rabbi of France joining together with the nation’s political leaders to condemn this brutal attack. We need to see more clergy standing together to condemn wanton violence in the name of religion. It is the silence that we have too often read about from Muslim authorities in the face of terrorism in America or around the world that only stokes the hatred.
The Sandler children and Miriam Monosengo will never achieve the awareness that the world was created for them. Rabbi Sandler will no longer be able to teach that lesson to generations of kids and adults. And neither will the three French Muslim soldiers who Merah also murdered have the chance to see the wisdom of their faith traditions’ teachings through to their children and grandchildren.
The politicians have spoken this week. The families have laid their loved ones to rest on Wednesday. What are we left with now? What will the remaining family members do to preserve their sanity? How will they cope with the feeling of being so tragically alone? How will the survivors travel a new pathway of grieving so that one day they can live their lives?
In this week’s Torah portion Leviticus we read how people expiate their sins by offering sacrifices. Belief and faith was central as the high priest officiated over their animal sacrifices that would enable them to find atonement and forgiveness or express gratitude to God.  Is there a formula that is as clear cut for healing a broken heart as a result of an act of terror? Where is the sacrificial ritual to require divine let alone human justice for the perpetrators of such crimes?
Again all we have left are more questions that we can share together. Worlds have been destroyed forever and at the same time can we pray for the Community of the Jewish people and Israel in particular to find the inner strength to support the survivors of this tragedy. Let our psalms and prayers and the love of the memory of the deceased provide consolation. And if God is in mourning too then let us also pray that God causes those divine tears to descend upon the survivors to bring them consolation and hope.
Can we pray that God will call out to us all to be aware that the terrorist act in one part of the world impacts us all wherever we live? Please God if You cannot answer our questions on Why or How this all could have happened then will You please just listen to our questions anyway? Maybe that is all we can expect from You?
Shabbat Shalom