Like you, I have been greatly distressed watching the events unfolding in our community and around the nation in the wake of the senseless murder of George Floyd last week. The deplorable killing of Mr. Floyd, captured and shared on video, has called attention anew to a persistent injustice in our society effecting individuals of color, a facet of that embedded injustice already highlighted by the Covid 19 pandemic and its effects.
As a community all too often called to mourn lives taken by hatred or indifference, we can understand the outrage felt by the Floyd family, the black community, and people of good conscience. Moved by these feelings, many have expressed themselves in peaceful protest and sought to vent their anger into productive avenues of engagement and change. Unfortunately, this has not been universally true, with some individuals using this moment as an opportunity to damage or destroy public buildings, private businesses, and personal property. These wanton acts of destruction do not honor George Floyd’s memory; rather, they distract from the very serious societal issues of racism, poverty, and inequity which must be confronted honestly and openly.
First and foremost, we must acknowledge that racism and bigotry persist as a plague in our communities, overt and obvious as well as in more nuanced and hidden forms. Second, we must acknowledge that the verse in Leviticus (19:16), “ do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed”, which has been prominent in our communal responses, demands more of us than we have said and done so far. As our teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught an expansion of this verse saying, “Few are guilty, many are responsible.” Third, we must acknowledge the danger of declarative “all” statements suggesting that the totality of any group may be reduced to a single monolithic entity. That said, I share with you an “all” statement rooted in the Torah that I firmly believe – “all human beings are created in the image of GOD.” Our challenge is to see past our differences to the essential spark of divinity in every person and thus treat each person as unique and sacred.
Our current Torah portion, Naso, presents us with the rules regarding individuals who commit themselves to living as a Nazirite. They willingly restrict themselves from the consumption of all intoxicants and grapes in any form while maintaining great caution to avoid ritual contamination through being anywhere near a corpse. The most overt aspect of the Nazirite was allowing their hair to grow unfettered. Ostensibly, the individual’s motivation was to make themselves, “holy to the LORD,” a laudable aspiration on its surface.
Reflecting more deeply, we discover that Israel can aspire to holiness but the pathway of the Nazirite is not the road to the Divine Presence. The Nazirite may satisfy their own personal emotional needs but they do not in any way serve others and therefore GOD. As individuals and as a people we achieve holiness by our adherence to a system of moral expectations and ritual requirements governing the entire gamut of our lives thereby affecting not only our relationship with GOD but touching on our interactions with others. The pursuit of holiness requires behavioral transformation, individually and collectively, of a type that results in the alleviation of the plight of those in need in our nation.
May this be a moment wherein we see clearly the sanctity at the heart of others, commit ourselves to the pathway of holiness, and become partners with all of GOD’s images around us in the work of perfecting our society.
With hope and faith,
Rabbi David M. Eligberg
A message from the local Jewish Community
Mourning the Senseless Killing of George Floyd
Our Jewish Community is grief stricken. We stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and beyond, as we all mourn the violent death of George Floyd. Our community rejects racism and bigotry in all its forms in our society.
Along with Civil Rights leaders, local officials, and other religious leaders, we express our respect and empathy for every human being as we are taught that each person is created B’Tzelem Elohim [in sacred image of God]. We renew our commitment to pursue justice and to work together for meaningful and lasting systemic change.
Our tradition teaches: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds” [Leviticus 19:16]. Therefore, we will uphold our responsibility to work alongside our neighbors to build a more equitable, caring, and just world.
Capital District Board of Rabbis
Jewish Family Services of Northeastern New York
Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York