It is a time of fear, a time of pain. Eleven people are dead, murdered for being Jews. Anger masks grief, anxiety dances in our chests with fury. What can we do with our fear, our pain?
In this time, I turn to the words of my teacher Elie Wiesel for comfort and clarity. I don’t know for certain what he would say today, but here are some of his teachings that I find helpful.
There is peril. To ignore the existence of evil is as dangerous as denying the good. To wish away those who wish ill upon us is a mistake. During the Holocaust, it was not God but Hitler who fulfilled his promises to the Jewish people. We have learned that when the enemy speaks of destruction, we had better listen. We know that right now there are men plotting harm and horror in the name of racist ideologies. Once we know this, we must act. Immediately.
And yet, in our urgent need to confront evil, we must not fall into it ourselves. “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof”, the Bible says: “Justice, justice thou shalt pursue”. One Hasidic master asked, Why the redundancy? His answer: The Bible is warning us never to use unjust means in our pursuit of justice. Those who use hatred to build a movement betray the ideals they claim to defend. Our country, our world needs us to hold tightly to a vision of shared humanity. Even with our many differences – and they are real, and must be celebrated, not ignored – we share so much. Above all, we share our future.
In this time of anxiety, we must find a way to resist despair, while never coming to terms with the world as it is. With all our strength we must protest the injustice that we see. We must become messengers of humanity, to humanity, with a message of what the world can be. This can be as simple and as profound as offering a smile to a stranger on the street, offering to help another carry a burden, and showing love and respect to those in need. Such acts are modest, but they shake the heavens.
There will come a moment very soon when you will hear something hateful, a slander aimed at an entire group, and you will have to decide whether to speak or be silent. Don’t speak: shout. With respect, for the sake of love, shout. And in between those moments, remember to smile.
We are burdened with dreams of equality, dignity, safety, peace and respect. We dream of a world rid of indifference, humiliation, and despair. We must not give up on those dreams. We must shout our dreams from the rooftops.