Vayigash 5779 – Are we racists?
The other day - reacting to the political intrigue and drama our great country is enduring - someone suggested that he is grateful to live in a country such as ours where manoeuvring, scheming and conspiracy can take place at the highest echelons of government. There are many dictatorships spanning the globe where citizens can only dream of such opportunities. Even as there's an awful lot hanging on the outcome, and whose consequences will be felt for a long time to come. Yet, all this is swept aside by the sheer theatre of it.
As attention has swung towards Parliament, another story - of no less importance - has developed. It emerged that a professional football player had been racially abused during a game. While football has been dramatically transformed over the past couple of decades, it appears that some unsavoury aspects of it have not. In truth, football merely mirrors the wider society. While we have come a long way in how we view and engage with others who are different, it is obvious that there is still much work ahead.
It is vital to acknowledge that there are people - alas too many - who not only dislike others, but who are prepared to act upon their prejudices. Who will verbally, and even physically, assault others simply for looking, or being, different.
We Jews know this only too well. But, what about the rest of us? While we abhor violence of any type, what are our inner thoughts and feeling really like when it comes to others - including our fellow Jews?
Perhaps it is inevitable that elements of mistrust - and even hostility - will be part of our identity. It's almost like a self-defence mechanism. But, it's wrong. Whether one is observant and engaged, or completely disconnected, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, Chassidic or Modern Orthodox. They're all just labels. And completely unnecessary.
Our daily focus on self-improvement must include efforts at eradicating negative feelings we may have of others.
With Chanukah still fresh in the memory, the Menorah's primary message is all about unity and cohesion, which I will clarify next week.
RABBI MENDEL LEW