Mishpatim - weekly Torah portion

The Ten Commandments, important as they may be, are not sufficient by themselves to provide for a desired social structure. Surely they are supreme guidelines but eventually the People need some more practical directions, those that connect to every day’s life. Not only as so overall principles but solutions for concrete cases. Sometime one can learn from those examples and derive understandings for other cases and so decide what the proper conduct is. It allows to take an example from our reading of this week and apply it wisely on a similar case. Sometimes the result is deterministic and final, “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death”. There are no background checks, may be some extenuating circumstances, and the like. The decision is clear, unequivocal, and final. Not all cases are like that.

Kehillat "Natan Ya" in Netanya woke up to discover that their synagogue had been broken into and vandalized, flooded by a garden hose.

Kehillat "Natan Ya" synagogue flooded by a garden hose.

There is another case, the case of an bull, “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.” In this case the underlying presumption is that normally bulls are timid and do not pose a threat to the people around them. In the case that this assumption was proven wrong than the ox is killed and its flash may not be consumed. The owner of that bull remains untouched – he has no responsibility for the incident whatsoever. But there is also another case, “If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.” This case is somewhat more complex, here we are speaking of a bull that is known to behave like a bully. Here the owner of that ox has already somewhat of an early warning and therefore must be in control of his animal so that it will not endanger others around it. The price paid by the owner is certainly shocking in our view today, nevertheless it may have been at the time a problem that required drastic measures.

Last Saturday night someone found it appropriate to breach the fence surrounding the “Natan Ya” congregation’s synagogue, take the water hose, stick it through a window and flood the sanctuary with water. Many cubical meters of water filled the building and penetrated deep into the soil underneath the structure. It is hard to grasp how anyone in a country so sensitive to the preservation of its water supply, found it acceptable to perform an act of vandalism in this way. This person, or persons, may have well risked lives of people had it not been found earlier rather than later in the process. That person is like that is certainly like an ox that is known to have done damage. Not that I am suggesting to stone such a person, but I do expect the police to act swiftly and decisively to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. If the police will refrain from doing so there is a good chance that this person, or persons, will do that again, somewhere sometime, with potentially devastating results.

This is also brought before the local and national leadership. It is not enough to raise one’s voices when an orthodox synagogue is set ablaze in Jerusalem. When the leaders are silent when this happens in Netanya then they just like the owner of a bull that is known to have harmed in the past, the bull that will kill one day, at some other place. It is therefore upon the leaders to be the first to raise their voices and do something about it. Maybe they think it can harm them in one election or another but they fail to realize the horrific price we all pay because of their cowardice. One cannot simply accept such evil, regardless of if the target is an orthodox synagogue, a church, a mosque, or, yes, even a Reform synagogue. They must speak up and they must perform.

As for us, this wrongdoer should know that we do not stand freighted by these deeds. Much water shall not bury our truths. It will not demise our ability to overcome such ugly attempts to hurt us in various shapes and forms. Where they will destroy we shall build, where they spread hate we shall spray love, where they scorch we shall plant, where they will silence we will raise our voices. Our congregation in its Jubilee year, we have experienced a lot. At times we had to wipe a tear or two, brush away drops of sweat, but always we lent our hands to push us forward. We are here and we are here to stay. He who tried to cause us damage on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day does not understand that our march is loud – we are here!

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Chodesh Tov.

Reuven Marko, 1 February 2019, 27 Shvat, 5779

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