We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

This is the shabbat of the Torah portion known as Hayei Sarah, "the life of Sarah," which concerns the death of Sarah rather than her life. But perhaps there is a lesson. What is a human life viewed from the perspective of its conclusion? It's in large measure the sum of the touches that a person puts out into the world. In this Torah portion, Abraham buys a cave from Ephron the Hittite to bury Sarah, a purchase which continues to influence our lives to this day. Rabbinic lore claims that Sarah died after being informed of Abraham's near sacrifice of their son, Isaac. We might draw a lesson about communication in marriage, since Sarah succumbed to the shock of not knowing that Abraham nearly slaughtered Isaac at God's command.

The story goes on to describe how Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer (God is my help) to find a bride for Isaac, and brings back Abraham's great niece, Rebekkah. And how do they recognize that Rebekkah is the designated one? Because of her extraordinary hospitality toward a complete stranger: Eliezer and his entourage. It's hospitality toward the stranger that assures Eliezer of his choice, and causes his mission to succeed.

In Ezekiel 16, the prophet claims that the sin of Sodom, for which Sodom was destroyed, is not a sex crime but failure to care for the indigent. In this Genesis story, and in the story preceding it of Abraham's hospitality to the strangers (Gen. 18), we see the biblical view that God places hospitality at the heart of being a human being.

And now we stand watching people fleeing persecution approach the Mexican-American border. We are "the most religious democracy in the world," and what is our national reaction? Rejection of the stranger.

This past week we witnessed the murder of 11 Jews praying in a synagogue, at the hands of a man inspired by our President's hatred of foreigners. HIAS is a Jewish agency that resettles refugees, and so the murderer decided that Jews need to die. Some might say that the President's inability to condemn neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Va., marching while chanting "The Jews will not replace us," might have led to the idea that Jews are not part of America, and therefore may be murdered with impunity.

But this cultural/political phenomenon is not limited to Jews. The Thursday prior to the synagogue murders a man murdered two African Americans in a Kroger in Louisville, having failed to attain entrance to a church. That same week, unexploded pipe bombs were sent to 14 democratic leaders and opponents of President Trump. The rhetoric of hate easily spreads to those who have no boundaries about murdering those who are unlike them and whom they are encouraged to hate by public discourse about how the "other" presents a threat to the lives of innocent people in the U.S. But the non-existent threat is simply a demagogue's way of controlling his loyal followers. Bibi Netanyahu did the same in Israel in 1996, and the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered.

And so we see the conclusion: God demands hospitality and radical acceptance. The fear of the stranger in the hearts of Americans, a flame fanned by the President of the U.S. in order to increase his chances of winning next week's mid-term election, is destroying the fabric of society that binds us together. And the only antidote is courage.

WE CANNOT LET TRUMP OR ANYONE ELSE MAKE US AFRAID. His lies are non-sensical, and anyone can see right through them. But Americans are so afraid that they will cower at any conjectured threat. Indeed, we allow the "other," blacks, Jews, Hispanics, the poor, to frighten us into submission and that is destroying not only the ties that bind all Americans together as one people, but the moral vision of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that undergirds our civilization.

Please think about this. Resist "othering" the stranger, making them look as though somehow, because they are different in some manner, they are a threat. We are religious Americans who together believe that God creates all humans in God's image. If an individual is a threat, that individual can be removed. But we must halt the language of exclusion that "others" those who are different. It is hospitality that brings human beings together in fellowship, and that fellowship that saves lives. The peril is not the other, it is ourselves.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Pogo

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.