Friday, January 16, 2009

The purity of our hands

In the last of the English midrashim for today -#68- the miracles of the Holy Temple have been transformed into how the priests competed -violently- for the privilege of serving. It is notable how what should be a moment of grace in service of God has turned into a shoving match, a competition, and in one case, a murder. And what is the rabbis comment on this murder?
The note the father of the young priest who is murdered comes out and says that his son is not yet dead, so the knife has not been made tamei. The rabbis say, "The cleanliness of their utensils,it seems, was of greater concern to them than the shedding of blood."

Somehow, at this time of war, I am reminded of our response as American Jews to the Gaza offensive. Whatever we believe about Hamas - and I don't think they're nice guys- the Jewish community's response - and especially the American Jewish community's response - has been a constant refrain of "Look how clean our knife is!"
IN fact, that has been a constant refrain of our community about the entire situation with the Palestinians. Instead of acknowledging what we have done, what actions of ours has been culpable, we constantly speak of the situation as if it's only and all about Public Relations, and if we could only present ourselves more television ready, then we would be washed white and clean of our share of the responsibility. Unfortunately, by doing this we are not only missing the point, we are putting ourselves in a worse position - because then, not only are we blinding ourselves from the ways in which we could move forward, but we also are abandoning in the one thing that makes us worthy of Israel - our moral relationship with God.

The Torah tells us over and over that Israel is not ours stam, but from two things - the merit of our ancestors (Something which we have to live up to) and that if we do not keep mitzvot we will be vomited out of the land. And keeping mitzvot is not simply a matter of shabbat and kashrut (that too, but not only), but also ethical behavior. Those knives are not tahor.

1 comment:

Richard Friedman said...

With all respect, this is an inapt analogy. In the midrash, the corrupt state of mind of the community is revealed in the fact that the victim's father himself ignores his own still-faintly-alive son in his concern for the ritual purity of a tool; he's happy about something minor when he should be trying to save his own son's life. If Israel's current Gaza campaign is morally justified (and I believe it is), a vigorous public defense is not acting "as if it's only and all about Public Relations." Those in the American Jewish Community who have argued in various forums in defense of the campaign (and I have done a little of this also) are focusing on lives. That they (we) focus more intently on Jewish lives is appropriate, even when the danger to Jewish lives (from Kassams and Grads) is less than the danger to Palestinian lives.