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Vaera 5781 ~ Jan. 15, 2021

The great debate of the week is one that we have no choice but to listen, debate and make our  own determination as to what we think is correct. As we listen, we wonder what makes the most sense not only for today, but for the future. The solution will be will be determined not only by legislators but also by Americans themselves and how they choose to heal our nation. Throughout this past week the discussion on the right to freedom of speech has been at the forefront of Jewish writings. For the Jewish world, the question of anti-Semitism, racial bias and bigotry are also at the forefront.

Dennis Prager, a Jewish radio host and author, wrote on January 12 in an article entitled: “The Good American:” “Beginning the next day, the American left used the Capitol mob just as the Nazis used the Reichstag: as an excuse to subjugate its conservative enemies and further squelch civil liberties in America — specifically, freedom of speech. Twitter not only permanently banned the account of President of the United States but permanently banned him from Twitter. Any Twitter account found tweeting Donald Trump was permanently banned.”

 Prager discounts the mob attack on the Capitol in the following manner: “On Jan. 6, 2021, a right-wing mob of a few hundred people broke away from a peaceful right-wing protest involving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of American conservatives and forced its way into the U.S. Capitol. One Capitol policeman was killed after being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, and one of the right-wing Capitol invaders was shot by a Capitol police officer. (A handful of others who died in the vicinity of the Capitol did so of nonviolent causes.) Aside from smashed windows, the mob seems to have done little damage to the Capitol. Their intent is still not clear. It seems to have been largely catharsis. They hurt no legislators, and if they intended to overthrow the government, they were delusional.”

Personally, I believe that Prager is delusional, if he believes that white supremacists who parade around wearing shirts with “Camp Auschwitz” or “6MWE” (6 Million Wasn’t Enough), who murder a Capitol policeman, and storm the Capitol, is anything less than how the Nazis came to power. It cannot be discounted that the speech of elected officials may have incited a violent mob in to carrying a noose and chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and to actively seek to attack the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other legislators.  Freedom of speech, whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, has never been absolute. Speech that slanders others or that incites violence is not protected by the Constitution. Mob rioting, looting, and destruction of property not only in Washington, but on any street of America, for any cause, is also abhorrent. I was equally as frightened by the riots this past spring across America that turned to destruction and looting, as I am with the occurrences this past week in our nation’s capital. Needless to say, violence, hatred and bigotry have no place in a democratic society.

In my humble opinion, for any Jew, to compare Nazi Germany to that of current day America, is totally inconceivable and misguided. As I stated on the High Holy Days, I am grateful for the peace initiatives in the Middle East, as well as the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem.  At the same time, as a kippah wearing Jew, my family is concerned about my personal safety. My children have now encouraged or shall I say strongly requested that I not wear a kippah on the street. (So as one of our congregants has suggested to me, one who experienced the Shoah herself,   for the present, I will wear a hat when I am in public.)

So how do we respond to Dennis Prager? In this week’s Torah reading, Rashi’s grandsons comment that the G-d of the Israelite nation is not solely their G-d.  Hashem is the G-d of all peoples, including the Egyptians. Hashem wanted Moses to understand that when the plagues occurred, Moshe, himself, needed to have compassion upon the Egyptians. The Egyptian people, for the most part, already comprehended that Hashem was their G-d too. The plagues took a toll on many good Egyptians. The goal of the plagues was to bring the demagogue who ruled them to that same understanding of Hashem; to free not only the Israelites but the Egyptians as well from the demagoguery and slavery of the Pharaoh.

In a similar vein, here in America, the question is not whether freedom of speech is guaranteed, for all people. It is. The question is one of speech that is not permitted, such as speech that incites violence or intimidates others thereby denying the freedom and liberty of all Americans to live in peace and freedom, no matter what race, religion or orientation. History reminds us that it was Germany’s and its people’s financial hardships, a direct result of Germany’s role in WWI, that brought the Nazis to power.  We, as a nation, cannot allow, a few to scapegoat others, as was done not only in Germany but also during the time of Pharaoh.

I believe that most of those who attended the rally in Washington had no intention of storming the Capitol building. Yet, we cannot discount those who came to Washington with the intention of overturning an election, and thereby threatening our very democracy which all of us, including Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi hold dear.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, one of the great Jewish thinkers of today, commenting on this week’s Torah reading offers us a true understanding of how we as moderns should interpret the Exodus narrative for today:  “the deeper point is that becoming a free person is not just a matter of no longer being ordered around by a master, nor is freedom achieved simply by making one’s own life decisions. To become fully free, one must have a home, a place where one lives by right, where one’s dignity is not dependent on the sufferance or tolerance of others. This frees me to be myself, to know what I want and act to accomplish it without fear of others or intimidation. Under these circumstances my activities reflect my choices in a state of liberty. Then every act in life—even taking on obligations—confirms and embraces my spirit of inner personal freedom.”

I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King might have offered as a message on this weekend as a nation is mindful of his place in our American conscience. I hope that his message of peace and hope, will be a part of America’s collective conscience in a positive manner, as a new president takes the oath of office.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782