Friday, January 31, 2014

Terumah, Dolphins and the Super Bowl

In preparing the tabernacle the Israelites slaughtered many animals, among them dolphins. These were the requirements detailed in this week’s portion.

“And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece…. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.” (Exodus 25)

Dolphin skins?, one might ask. Yes, even dolphins.

This past week we read about Japan’s slaughter of dolphins. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has brought this practice to light when she tweeted, “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.” (The notion that virtues and morals can be reduced to 140 characters would be the subject of another post.) The Japanese have argued that the practice is deeply rooted in tradition saying, “Dolphin fishing is a form of traditional fishing in our country.”

What is it about this practice that strikes Western societies as cruel and inhumane? Is it that dolphins hold some special place in our hearts? Is it the gruesome images of the slaughter of hundreds of dolphins in a tranquil cove? Why is this practice more abhorrent than the (unseen) overfishing of the world’s oceans? Is this as the Japanese wish to frame the question a clash of civilizations, of Eastern mores offending Western values or is it instead as the United States argues the protection of what should be a universal ethic?

And I wonder what would happen if I were required to construct a tabernacle according to my tradition’s dictates? Would this portable sanctuary look as the Torah describes; would it be adorned with lapis lazuli and acacia wood, tanned ram skins and dolphin skins? Would I be required to herd the dolphins slaughtered by the crashing of the waves of the Sea of Reeds, as the rabbis suggest? To what ends would I travel in order to give my tradition life?

Would I say yes to the tradition or no to the slaughter of dolphins? Although I would of course never go to such lengths, I am left with the larger question: what happens when tradition conflicts with contemporary mores? How do we decide? When do we lean into the tradition? When do we side with contemporary society?

The early Reform rabbis argued in the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform: “We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.” In essence they taught that when it comes to a tallis and kippah, permitted and prohibited foods, sacrifices and priestly adornments we side with contemporary society. We side with the tradition only when it agrees with universal ethical dictates.

I continue to wonder.

Come Sunday most, if not all, Americans will gather around their televisions to watch the Super Bowl. Most as well have come to recognize the terrible costs this game has upon players’ bodies, most especially because of concussions. No matter how many rules and precautions the NFL develops, players will continue to suffer harm, during their years of playing and for many, throughout their lives. There is little doubt that at some point in Sunday’s game a player will lie injured on the field with doctors and trainers kneeling around him. The announcers will offer platitudes about the NFL’s new protocols and hopes that the player’s injury does not end his career. The TV will cut to a commercial. We will take the opportunity to replenish our food or drinks. The game will soon continue. The tradition of Sunday football moves on.

And I will continue to watch. I love the game. I even love the commercials. I love the spectacle and tradition of Super Bowl Sunday.

And I continue to wonder. Who am I to criticize the inhumaneness of the killing of dolphins?

We choose tradition more often than we think.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson and BDS

Scarlett Johansson, the new official spokesperson of SodaStream, the Israeli company who has purchased a Super Bowl advertisement spot, is facing controversy from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.  SodaStream is located in the West Bank.  It is specifically located in the Maale Adumim industrial park.  Maale Adumim sits right outside of Jerusalem and has a population of some 40,000 residents.  To most Israelis it is a Jerusalem suburb.  To the vast majority of peace negotiators it is one of the three large settlement blocs that will be incorporated within the borders of the State of Israel.  Such facts are of course immaterial to the BDS movement.  Scarlett Johansson released an official statement yesterday:
While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I'd like to clear the air. 
I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day. As part of my efforts as an Ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive. 
I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.
To my mind SodaStream helps to further a two state solution.  Below is a video produced by SodaStream.  It is a testament to the power of what can happen, and what might happen, when Jews and Arabs work side by side.

To my ear the BDS movement is not interested in dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians but instead in demonizing and marginalizing the State of Israel. It draws broad strokes and refuses to examine particulars. "All settlements are wrong," it shouts. There are differences throughout the territories. Look within each community instead. I disagree with the movement's refrain that Israel is wrong and the Palestinians are right, that Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians are victims. There are victims on both sides. Israel has certainly made mistakes and I believe continues to do so (the continued expansion of remote settlements in the West Bank is on my list) but it does not get us any closer to a negotiated peace to portray one side as guilty, and entirely responsible for our present circumstances, and the other as innocent. When Jews and Arabs come face to face with each other and as in the case of SodaStream work together and celebrate together, and in some cases become friends, then we are one step closer to a two state solution and living side by side as friendly neighbors.

I for one am looking forward to the much talked about commercial during the upcoming Super Bowl.  I am almost inclined to purchase a soda maker, even though I never drink soda.

Addendum: below is the commercial that will appear, at least in part, during the Super Bowl.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mishpatim, Keeping Kosher and Weaving Meaning

“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:19)

With this seemingly obscure verse, repeated three times, a mountain of laws is built. From this one verse the kosher laws requiring the separation of milk and meat are spun. Jewish law derives three prohibitions: cooking milk and meat together, eating any combination of these and as well deriving benefit from this mixture.

Why? The traditional explanation is that a mother’s milk sustains life. It must therefore never be combined with an animal’s flesh. Eating meat is seen as a compromise to human wants, and perhaps needs. It must then be framed by certain constraints. We cannot eat any meat we want. Hence the lists of permitted and prohibited animals. We cannot eat hunted animals. Our tradition argues that they might have suffered too much. We cannot eat meat with the milk that would have sustained its life.

Such are our tradition’s reasons. It is of course possible that all the Torah meant was that we are forbidden from cooking a young goat in a pot of boiling milk. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that this was a practice of Israel’s neighbors. Perhaps the Torah’s law was one more version of its singular refrain: Don’t do what they do. Don’t follow the practices of those idolaters.

Sometimes I wonder if the Torah’s lack of details and explanations surrounding this verse suggests that its meaning was clear to the ancient ear. The Torah states: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” And the people looked to the North (I once saw such a recipe in a Syrian cookbook) and then to the East and together nodded in agreement. No more needs to be said. The Torah’s message, repeated over and over again and in many different forms, is heard: we will never be like them. We will never do what they do.

And yet thousands of years later this is not what Judaism says the verse means. We are not literalists. We are dependent on years and years of interpretation. At first the rabbis argued whether or not chicken should be considered meat since it does not nurse its young. The ancient chicken farmers must have lost that argument. It looks too much like meat the rabbis argued. And so chicken is now meat.

And the mountain of interpretation keeps growing.

After eating meat we wait before eating milk. Some wait one hour. Others wait six hours. We have separate dishes for milk and others for meat. We have separate cooking utensils. No cheeseburgers. No ice cream for dessert after a steak dinner. The lists grow and grow.

The original intent was long ago obscured. And yet years ago Susie and I decided to build our kitchen according to these lists. No one coerced us. No one demanded this of us. Somewhere along our journey we discovered these lists and decided to make them our own. Now we have two sets of everything. Sometimes we sit down for a meat meal. Other times we take out the milk dishes. No one said, “You must keep kosher.” One day we decided to makes these seemingly arbitrary, but uniquely Jewish, lists our own.

More than anything else this set of rules define our day to day lives as Jewish. Every time we prepare a meal, we have to ask, “Milk or meat?” Every time the question is asked our Jewish consciousness is raised. Every time I reach for a cup or a plate I am reminded of my Jewishness. Buying kosher meat does little to raise this awareness. The refrigerator and freezer hold only kosher choices. “Milk or meat?” becomes the all-important daily Jewish question.

Are the rules illogical? Perhaps. But their meaning transcends their logic. They are meaningful precisely because they are not our own. It is not the logic of the rules that we have adopted but instead a discipline above and beyond ourselves. It is this discipline that binds us to the Jewish community near and far, past and future. It is these rules that daily renew our commitments to our God. The great Jewish teaching is that while eating should be enjoyable it must also be about more than just pleasure. It is as well about discipline.

Sure you can eat anything you want. You can also pause and say a blessing and then allow gratitude to soothe your heart. You can as well, in that instant when you begin the preparations for a meal marvel that even this mundane, every day moment, can be infused with Jewish meaning by the simplest of questions, “Milk or meat?”

Standing on mountains of interpretation “You shall not a boil a kid in its mother’s milk” continues to weave its way into my heart.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yitro and the Ten Commandments

This week’s Torah portion contains the Ten Commandments.  According to Jewish tradition, these ten are delineated as follows and are called instead Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Sayings.  Part of the reason for this name is that the first commandment is not in fact a commandment but instead a foundational principle.

1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
2. You shall have no other gods beside Me.
3. You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God.
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and you mother that you may long endure on the land.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not commit adultery.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. (Exodus 20)

It is interesting to note as well that this week’s portion is named for someone who is not an Israelite.  It is called Yitro.  He is the father in law to Moses and not only a Midianite, but a priest.  In other words he is a religious leader of another nation.  While the rabbis argued that Yitro must have converted, the Bible suggests only that he and his tribe are aligned with the Israelites—at this time.  Later the Midianites become Israel’s enemy. The medieval commentator Ibn Ezra reminds us: Although there are always Amaleks there are also Yitros.  Not every outsider is our perpetual enemy.   

The implied message for the portion’s name is clear.  These commandments contain universal truths.  They were given in the wilderness, a place belonging to no one.  They are found in a portion named for someone outside of the Jewish people.  They do not belong to a select few.  Instead they belong to all.  They belong everywhere.

If they are to having lasting meaning then they must have such meaning for all.  If they are to have universal import then they must belong to all.  This is why it is Yitro and not Moses who opens this week’s reading: “Yitro priest of Midian, Moses’ father in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the Lord had brought Israel out from Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1)

Sometimes the greatest truths are found in the mouths of others and not even in our greatest heroes.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Riding in Circles

The following is the sermon delivered at Friday evening Shabbat services.

When we were younger all of us took our required math classes.  Some of us enjoyed these.  Many did not.  In those classes we learned about the basics of adding and subtracting, multiplying and in my most advanced class, division.  Later we learned geometry and there I first found out about this magical number called Pi.  Pi is a curious number.  It is a mathematical constant of 3.14159 and so on.  In recent years it has been calculated out to 10 trillion digits.  In theory it goes on into infinity without ever repeating.  It is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  It is in a word the constant around which a circle revolves.

Like a circle the Torah is perfect and so I am given to wondering, what is its Pi.  What is the verse around which the Torah spins?  Is it its opening verse: Bereshit bara Elohim—In the beginning God created heaven and earth?  Without a beginning that immediately establishes God’s relationship with the world there could be no Torah.  But you can’t spin around a beginning or ending for that matter.  Is it instead the command to observe Shabbat: Zakhor et yom hashabbat—Remember the Sabbath day?  Can there be a more central command to Jewish life than Shabbat?  Perhaps instead the verse: Vahavata l’r’echa kamocha—love your neighbor as yourself?  Some have pointed out that when the Torah is unrolled to that verse of Leviticus 19:18 the scroll is perfectly balanced.  This verse stands at the exact center of the Torah.  It certainly could be argued that if we observed this command day in and day out we would do more to elevate our lives and the lives of those around us.

Still I remain unsatisfied that these verses could be the Torah’s constant, that these could represent the circle of the Torah’s Pi.  This week in Parashat Beshalach, we read not only the Song of the Sea, containing the words of Mi Chamocha, but the following as well: So God led the people roundabout by way of the wilderness.  And I have come to believe that these words are in fact the linchpin for the remainder of the Torah’s story.  God intentionally led the people on what would become a forty year journey.  I know that we have read the commentaries suggesting that it was not God’s intention at the outset.  It was instead the Israelites’ sins that caused a few month journey to turn into one of forty years.  We recall as well the teaching that only those who were born as free people in the wilderness could become a free nation in their own land.  Slaves cannot really know freedom.  And so the slaves must die so that a new, free people can be formed. 

In fact this forty year long journey was always God’s intention all along.  That is clear from this week’s parsha.  The famous Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, suggests this as well.  He writes that God purposely misdirects us.  We only discover our freedom when pointed in the wrong direction.  I think that God just kept leading us in circles until we learned enough to realize the dream of entering the Promised Land.  Have you ever considered the fact that our central book, the Torah, concludes without this dream being realized?  It ends at the edge of the land, at the border of a dream.  And then what do we do?  We circle back to the beginning: Bereshit bara Elohim.

One of the geniuses of our tradition is having faith in the messianic redemption, but also always believing that the messiah’s arrival stands at a great distance.  This notion is codified by the rabbis when they wrote (and I share this in honor of the upcoming Tu B’Shevat): If the messiah comes and you are planting a tree, first finish planting, and then go to greet the messiah. (Avot deRabbi Natan)  When the messiah gets too close we tend to forget about the here and now.  There are plenty examples from our history (Shabtai Zevi is the most notorious) but the lessons are the same.  If you believe that this guy is the messiah then you stop trying to fix things yourself and say instead, “He will take care of it.”  You forget to plant the tree.  So we sing and pray for the messiah’s arrival but continue to take care of things ourselves.  The dream is held at a distance.  The Promised Land is across the way, off in the distance.  We circle back and begin the journey again. 

As many of you know, I am an avid cyclist.  Others might suggest, obsessed but to the aficionado, avid is the preferred name.  Every ride is a new journey.  While I always circle back home, I almost never ride the same route.  Sometimes I look for a new road to explore. Other times I just don’t want to climb Mill Hill.  Then there are days when I realize that climbing Mill Hill will be worth the tail wind I will gain riding out of Bayville.  How many times have I raced on Berry Hill on my way back towards Huntington and never even noticed Temple Lane?  How many miles are required to discover a new, potential home?  How many years of journeying and wandering are necessary?

Part of the problem is our goal-oriented society.  A life without goals appears meandering and aimless.  The sentiment is that without a predetermined destination we are lost.  But it is possible to explore without ever being lost.  When I ride I don’t carry maps.  I know that if I am riding west the Sound is always on my right.  And how do you know that the Sound is on your right when it is not within sight? By the temperature.  As you approach the water the air cools and even though the Sound is outside of view, you can feel it’s near and so you can ride, and explore and wander without ever really being lost.  The direction can only be a feeling.    

You can’t learn and grow if everything is about a goal.  The destination, the goal, is not the purpose of a journey.  School is supposed to be about discovery and not about test scores and grades.  If the message of our tradition were all about goals, then Torah would conclude with the Book of Joshua and not Deuteronomy.  The lesson of the Torah is revealed in this week’s verse.  In journeys we discover our Torah.  In wandering we find our lessons.  When you wander you discover things that are unintended.  It is there that we write stories. 

Think of the stories from vacations and travels.  Rarely do we retell them as follows: Everything went according to plan.  We followed our itinerary to the letter.  Our plane took off on time.  Our driver picked us up at the appointed hour.  More often, it is recounted like this: we were walking and exploring and we happened into this restaurant because we were tired and hungry and we discovered this gem.  We were the only foreigners there.  The food was delicious.  We talked to the chef.  Now we go back there every time we visit.

Life-long friends can be made when there is a mistake in your seat assignment.  Would we remain in the seat or berate the flight attendant about the error?  Leon Wieseltier once observed, Serendipity is how the spirit is renewed.  Wandering is how truths are discovered and lessons learned.  It could be as simple as a new route for a bike ride or as profound as a new friend.  Lessons are gained on journeys.

This week we discover the guiding verse of our most sacred book.  It is not as others would suggest.  It is instead about the journey and wandering.  The key Hebrew word is Vayesev.  It is translated in most Bibles as leading roundabout.  God turns the people around and around and around.  We could almost say that God spins us around in circles. The verb shares the same root as one word for circle. 

People always think that a journey is a straight line.  It is not.  It is instead a circle.  But even a circle has a constant.  That is a lesson learned long ago in math class.  There is a certain principle within each and every circle.  The Torah is the same.  And God led the people roundabout.  We continue on the journey.   Who knows what lessons might be learned.  The Torah never concludes.  We take a mere breath in between reading its last word and its first.  The Torah is drawn in circles. 

Have faith in the journey.  Even though we might wander in circles there remains a constant with infinite meaning. Relish the wandering.  At times we might only be able to sense the destination. Other times the goal appears mysterious. Understand this: we always circle back home. 

Shabbat Meditation

The following is the meditation offered prior to yesterday's Shabbat services.

Shabbat is about perspective.

This morning although it was snowing, raining and sleeting the temperature was 30º. Compared to the beginning of the week’s -15º wind chill, I felt warm. It only takes a bitterly cold day, or few days, to appreciate and be thankful for an ordinary winter day.

That is Shabbat. When life feels cold it warms us. It offers us a day to draw in that extra breath, the neshamah yetirah, that additional soul granted to us on this day. We sing our songs, we offer our prayers, we gather as a community to gain perspective on the week. Our troubles and frustrations appear less bothersome, our difficulties and pains seem more manageable.

We emerge strengthened. Our perspective is restored.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beshalach and Writing Circles

Years ago, when I was nine, my friend and I were misbehaving on the camp bus.  On that particular day there was no counselor to manage the campers, only a bus driver.  And so we were jumping up and down on the back seats, and screaming and shouting.  I know this is hard to imagine given how little I move on the bima, but we were even running up and down the aisle.  The bus driver understandably grew angry with us.  We ignored every request to stop.  Perhaps the final straw was when we burst into laughter after he yelled at us. 

He pulled the bus over on what was St Louis’ equivalent to Jericho Turnpike.  He ordered us off the bus.  We happily complied, grabbing our bags and lunches as we walked off the bus.  This was not a punishment but instead an opportunity, we thought.  Rather than calling our parents at the nearby bagel store or any number of stores along the way, we decided to walk to my friend’s house.  Although we did not know the area, we could see the local hospital’s tall buildings in the distance and we knew that he lived near the hospital.  And so we walked toward our landmark.

My mom only recently told me that the camp called with the following message, “Mrs. Moskowitz, we need to tell you something.  Your son’s bus driver arrived at camp this morning and told us that he kicked Steven off the bus because he was misbehaving.  We have already sent our staff out to search for him and we are sure we will find him very soon.”  My father happened to be out of town on a business trip.  My mother was advised to stay at home and off the phone in case I called her.  I did not.  She sat by the phone, alone except for my younger brother, waiting and crying.  Family legend has it that her hair started turning grey on that morning.

Meanwhile my friend and I were enjoying our unexpected adventure.  We decided to leave the busy main road and walk through neighborhood streets.  We could eat whatever we wanted from our lunch bag, whenever we wanted.  We were free, wandering the streets of St Louis, oblivious to any dangers and unconcerned by the worry growing at home and among the camp’s directors.  The staff finally caught up with us, a few short blocks from my friend’s house.  We had walked for nearly three hours, meandering through at least two miles of streets.

They called my mom to tell her that they had found me and were bringing me home.  Had this happened more recently I might have been able to retire then and there from the lawsuit’s settlement. By the way the bus driver was only docked a few days pay.  Can you imagine today’s Internet headlines?  “Young boy traumatized by crazed bus driver.”  I was dumbfounded that my mom was so upset and surprised that she kept saying, “Thank God you are ok.”  (I do understand now.)  Of course we were ok.  I had just returned from an exciting adventure.  I had explored new streets.  I had discovered new areas.  I was never afraid.  My friend and I were always together.  We never once doubted our ability to find our way home.  Although we were walking on unfamiliar roads I never felt lost.

Recently I attended a lecture with the noted Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, who authored the book, The App Generation.  He observed that today’s children have never experienced getting lost.  I wonder what lessons remain unlearned.  They are uncomfortable asking a stranger for directions.  They do not know how to use landmarks to find their way. They might be unable to bottle their fears of the unknown and unfamiliar, harnessing them instead for the strength to explore and learn.  Imagine how my story might have been different if we had cellphones or if we had opened the Google Maps app.  There would be no story.

When my father returned home and overcame his anger, he asked me why we had not gone into the closest store and asked to use the phone.  Our answer surprised and mystified him.  I said that we never thought of that.  Why?  The adventure stood before us.  We were writing a new story.

“So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness…” (Exodus 13:18)  The Hebrew is even more direct.  It suggests that God turned the people around and around, intentionally leading them in circles.  40 years of wandering begin this week.  40 years of learning begin with the walking in circles.

There can only be a story when meandering in circles. Years of learning begin with such turns.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bo and the Plague of Silence

I have been thinking about the cost of my freedom.  In particular what is the cost to others for my freedom?  How many innocents have died in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or our continuing drone war?  To be sure the wicked have been killed and terrorist attacks prevented.  Still I wonder how many innocent civilians have been killed so that I can continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of my life, to walk around a city unafraid, to sit in a restaurant with friends, to dance at a wedding celebration.

Last month we read that a drone strike killed eleven people in Yemen as they were traveling in a wedding convoy.  It was reported that those killed were most likely affiliated with Al Qaeda.  It is also possible and perhaps even likely that at least some were innocent wedding goers. 

Every Spring we gather around our Seder tables and pause to recall the plagues: Daam-Blood, Tz’fardeiah-Frogs, Keenem-Lice, Ahrov-Wild Beasts, Dehver-Cattle Plague, Sh’cheen-Boils, Barad-Hail, Arbeh-Locusts, Choshech-Darkness, Makat B’chorot-Death of Firstborn.  For each plague meted against the Egyptians, we recite its name and remove a drop of wine from our overflowing glasses.  We are taught that we lessen our joy because of the suffering of others.  However justified their punishment our joy is diminished.  And then some forget and lick the wine from their fingers.  And others shout, “Don’t taste the plagues!”  Still all return to their meals and celebrations.

This week we read, “In the middle of the night the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first born of the cattle.  And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians—because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead.” (Exodus 12:29-30)

Every Egyptian suffered the plague’s punishments, from the rulers who were ruthless in their persecution of the slaves to those who I imagine even opposed Pharaoh’s rule.  The notion that a tyrant only jails those accused of justified crimes is false.  Why must those held in his dungeons be punished as well?  All were killed from those evil men who plot against us and agitate for our destruction to those innocents who came only to dance at a wedding.

Am I to believe that anyone racing across the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Yemen is guilty?   Perhaps there was some who were only held captive and now they too suffer their rulers’ punishments.  One could argue that all Egyptians were complicit.  Far too many remained silent in the face of our persecution.  Far too many perpetuated the system of slavery upon which their livelihoods were based.  

I am unable to forget.  Even the firstborn of those languishing in Egypt’s prisons were also punished. In the struggle against evil do we begin to lose the ability to distinguish between wicked and innocent?

The tradition argues that the plagues were also, and perhaps even more so, for the sake of demonstrating God’s mighty power to the Israelites.  And so I ask, how many must suffer so that I can proclaim my freedom?

The innocent continue to suffer.  

And Abraham pleads with God when he becomes aware of the plan to destroy the sinful cities Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25)

Dare we remain silent?