All Men Are Actually Not Created Equal…
When Gene Greenzweig (z”l), and so many others here in Miami and around the world, developed the Miami March of the Living, they did so because they believed, as I do, in the power of education to transform people and their paths in life.
We may not be able to influence the haters or change their path, but we can influence our own Jewish youth to be able to stand up and get involved whenever hatred rears its ugly face.
I feel blessed to be part of an organization like CAJE that adds real value to our community through the educational work we do every day – the professional development initiatives we undertake with our early childhood, religious school and day schools as well as the teen programs we run like the Diller Teen Fellows program and Miami’s Leo Martin March of the Living. Never has it felt more urgent and important to be working to educate the next generation.
This week’s parasha is entitled Re’eh (from the first word of the portion), meaning “See!” So much of our life is influenced by how and what we see, and what we allow ourselves to see.
The Holy One states: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…” (Devarim/ Deuteronomy 11:26) and it’s all about discerning which one to choose. If we choose to follow G!D’s path, then there is blessing. And if not, there is curse.
In our country, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are somewhat like the secular versions of the Torah and Talmud. They are the basis for how we, as citizens, should live our lives, and the basis for all the subsequent laws of our nation.
When we live up to their ideals, there is blessing. And when we don’t, there is curse. Charlottesville and the lack of clear condemnation by some officeholders is a potent demonstration of it. Antisemitism coupled with the cancel culture present on college campuses and the lack of clear condemnation by other officeholders is a potent demonstration of it.
There’s a video made in 1947 by the US government that is still timely 70 years later. In it, you will hear the following compelling statement about how the Nazis gained power:
“They [the Nazis] knew they weren’t strong enough to conquer a unified country, so they split Germany into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to cripple the nation…
you see, we human beings are not born with prejudices. Always they are made for us, made by someone who wants something. Remember that when you hear this kind of talk.
Somebody is going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.”
We are now witnessing how hate groups are encouraged to feel powerful and free to recruit, publicize and spread their beliefs when they don’t hear an unequivocal message from political leaders on both sides to stop them.
We now can see how the blessing of free speech can become a curse if it isn’t used wisely.
In our parsha, G!D states multiple times that we must destroy idolatry in every way possible—
“tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site." (Devarim/ Deuteronomy 12:3)
Why is G!D so vehement against idolatry? So what if people worship a pillar or an image?
Because idolatry is essentially a worship of self— something that looks like you (idols never seem to look like some other ethnic group, do they?) or of the physical. And worshipping the physical- the material- is problematic because it is limited and morally neutral.
The sun can be harmful, causing melanoma and other skin cancers, but it’s not evil. The lion might kill a weak little gazelle, but no one considers it murder, because the values of the animal kingdom are survival of the fittest.
However, we human beings are given a gift by the Holy One— the ability to rise above nature and the physical in order to achieve the spiritual, the meta-physical, the eternal.
Only on that plane of being do the following words make sense: “And G!D created humanity in His image, in the image of G!D He created it; male and female He created them.” (Bereisheet/ Genesis 1:27)
And similarly, only on that plane of being do the following words make sense: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
Why did I entitle this Dvar Torah as “All Men Are Actually Not Created Equal…”?
Because it is patently obvious that all men are not in fact created equal. You may be smarter than me. I may be stronger than you. And so forth…. It’s obvious we are not equal in the physical world.
How then could the Founding Fathers have written them into one of the most important documents of our country? How then are these words true?
Only in the spiritual realm-- on the intangible plane of existence-- do these words hold true.
And that is where religion/ spirituality has such an important and powerful role to play. If we don’t believe in the power of the intangible, if we are solely focused on the reality of the physical/ material world, then we won’t be able to believe and thus live according to the essential words above.
May all those who die protecting and defending our Constitution and the ideals of our country be remembered for a blessing. And may we at CAJE continue to stand fast in our desire to educate the next generation to be proudly Jewish and proudly American.