(This speech was given at the vigil in Yakima Washington shortly after the attack on Chabad of Poway)
We have come together again and sorrow. I see many of the same faces. Getting the best of ways, we have to stop meeting like this. B’Ezrat HaShem, In Sh’Allah, G-d willing, this should be the last time.
We are here to grieve for the dead, and pray for the injured. May their recoveries be swift, and their memories be a blessing to those who knew the departed in life.
As I had stated last time I was asked to speak, I am a practical and pragmatically minded person. I find solace in analyzing the problem and searching for solutions. In such I have no more time for handwringing and cheap moralizing. So I pray you will forgive the analysis of an angry young man, and perhaps take to heart a call to action, derived from cooler reflection.
This last week, two moments of terror ripped into the world. Easter Sunday saw Sri Lankan churches under direct and active attack. 500 bombs killed 253 worshippers on one of the holiest days for the Christian faith. Two days ago, a white nationalist terrorist walked into a shul in Poway California and killed 1 woman, and injured 4 more, including the Rabbi, who despite having his fingers shot off, had the presence of mind during the crisis to evacuate the children, then braving the fire again to face the terrorist, went back inside the building to evacuate all of the other congregants.
Before that, an even deadlier attack shattered the muslim community of christchurch NZ. It is with great regret, that I admit I let my own feelings of awkwardness prevent me from speaking publicly at that event. And for that I sincerely apologize for failing to lend my voice in support and condemnation.
And even before that, we gathered in rememberance of the shooting at ther Tree of Live Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I have lost my patience. We gather in remembrance, a good thing. We sit, and we moralize, and we speak of love and tolerance. I am tired of tolerance. I will no longer be tolerant of hate. And I will no longer be tolerant of what we Jews call Avoda Zarah, or idolatry.
I mean that in a very specific way. I consider all of these terrorists idolaters. They deify their own wills and desires over the will of the Holy One. When he calls for peace, they offer violence. When He demands justice, they offer oppression. And where he requires love, all they offer is hate.
There is a statement in the Talmud, that if one is kind to the cruel, that person will eventually be cruel to the kind. I ask you to decrease your tolerance for hate. That is not cruelty. That is justice. Those who choose not to live by the 3 tenants of behavior listed above are outside civilization, and are not welcome in my presence in my congregation and in my community. I hope you feel the same. I ask you, counter to the direction we usually seek, to be less tolerant.
In this time of what we consider heightened religious violence, I ask you something in my second call to action that also seems counterintuitive. Be more religious. Here’s what I mean.
All of our faiths gathered here today hold as precious the practice of love, justice, and peace. I ask you to embrace these tenants of faith. Most of all within our community itself. Forget the world, the world is a concept beyond us, something we will never touch. We can touch our neighbors though. The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Righteous Memory stated
“The Torah recognizes that it is often harder to love our neighbor, the flesh-and-blood person who lives near us and whose faults and annoying characteristics we are well aware of, than to love mankind, consisting of people whom we have never met and never will meet. It is wise to be guided by the words of Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700–1760), the founder of Chasidism: “Just as we love ourselves despite the faults we know we have, so we should love our fellows despite the faults we see in them.”
I expect this of myself. And just as the Rebbe asked others to be his messengers, I ask you to be my messengers with this one mission, to show the obligations of peace, justice, and love placed upon us by the Holy One Blessed be He in your house, your friends, your work and your neighborhood. Thank you for your time.