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Ki TetzehAugust 21, 2021 

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom, 
It never ceases to amaze me how simple Halachot/Mitzvot/Laws of the Torah can have significance throughout the ages. Even if we think that they have long ago passed into disuse, somehow, they always find new meaning in a different era. This week’s parsha has no less than 72 mitzvot in it, more than any other parsha. As the Torah comes to its end, this parsha serves as a catch all for the miscellaneous laws that didn’t quite fit in before. 
In Deut. 23:8 we find one of these laws that look like it is out of date but suddenly, in 2021, it has new meaning. It reads: “Do not hate the Edomite, for he is your kinsman. Do not hate the Egyptian, for you were a stranger in their land.” On the surface, we wonder what we are supposed to do with this. There are no more Edomites and Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt that has proven to be remarkably strong no matter how strained the relations between Egypt and Israel have become.
Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. We were first cousins to the Edomites and as relatives, we can have our differences, but we are not allowed to hate them. And our people have had plenty of differences with them in ancient history. When Israel was on its way to the Promised Land. Edom would not let them pass through their territory, requiring a long 40-year detour. When Israel went into exile after the destruction of the first Temple, the Edomites were happy for our loss. But that is the way it is with family. We are just not allowed to hate our family. As it says in the Sifre, the ancient commentary on Deuteronomy, “so great is brotherhood, it must override our hatred.”
With Egypt, the story is different. What started out as a country that welcomed our ancestors with open arms, over the years deteriorated into oppression, slavery, anger, and genocide. And all of that is contained in just the first chapter of Exodus. After 400 years of slavery and 40 years since the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, Moses is telling the people, in the words of Rabbi Noah Farkas of Los Angeles, to “Let it go”, he writes in his blog: “What Moses is trying to do is use the worst-case scenario to form the best-case scenario. Societies that are moral and free cannot be founded on resentment. If we can let go of our hatred of our enemies, how much more important should it be to let go of our resentment for each other? If the Israelites are to build a new world, one based on love and justice, then they must not only liberate themselves from oppression, but also free themselves of their hatred. What was true for them is true for us. Of all the movements for our own liberation, perhaps the most important is to liberate ourselves from our resentment of the past so that we are free to build our future.” 
As the New Year approaches, we really need to think about what Rabbi Farkas is saying. Rosh Hashana teaches us that we should not carry any extra “baggage” into the New Year. We need to resolve any issues we have by seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness to those who have offended us. We must go through our minds and try to find some resolution to whatever anger we are carrying with us. That is especially true of hatred. The only thing that hating someone does is to make us feel bad. The person or thing that we hate usually has no idea how much we loath them. They go on with their lives in blissful ignorance about how we feel. It is like, as one of my teachers used to say, “It is like giving them free rent inside your head”.
I am sure that many of us have been struggling with all of the intense feelings that are going around these days. It does not matter your political affiliation, but I am sure that almost everyone is contemplating ending a friendship, maybe even one that has endured for years, because of political differences. Political differences have invaded almost every space in our lives. The Pandemic has become political; wearing a mask or not, getting vaccinated or not, mandating masks or mandating vaccinations are all political these days and the point of much anger and disappointment. 
How many times have we said to someone, “I can’t believe that my friend holds an opinion like that? I don’t know how I can still be friends with him or her. After all that we have been through, all the happy times we spent together, and now I wonder if I should just walk away from them because they are holding such crazy views. “
I am trying really hard here not to take a political side here because it really doesn’t matter what side you or your friend are on. Our relationships have become so heated that they are in danger of breaking apart. And we consider walking away from some of our longest friendships. That is the nature of the way we argue today. We become so fixed in our own positions; we can’t even listen to a long-time friend who may think differently than we do. 
Rabbi Farkas writes: “It’s the same cluster of feelings many of us have - the deep unsettledness of difference and the backbeat of fear and shame that courses through our relationships when we realize another human being does not mirror our own self-image. … we want to be accepted by our friends, and to be affirmed and understood, but with the insatiable intensity of life all around us, with forces so much stronger than us pulling us away from each other, it becomes so easy to curate the differences out of our lives even at the cost of decade-long relationships. The inner transformation from love to resentment to hate does not happen all at once, but once it begins it becomes hard to stop. I’m reminded of what the writer James Baldwin wrote, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” If only we could deal with our inner lives, our outer lives would be so much better. 
I think I will post that quote from James Baldwin on my office door.
We don’t have to be social workers to hear the pain that is all around us. So much hatred hiding so much pain. The unsettled nature of our world today; the political upheaval, the pandemic, the anti-Semitism, the endless loop of news that we can listen to all day either affirming what we believe or making us angry that others don’t see things as we do. 
The line between the outer world and our inner life has now been worn very thin. We never know when the next argument will shatter a long-standing friendship or turn us against a neighbor. We just throw up our hands and walk away. 
Our Parsha teaches us a different path. We have to care for the Egyptians because they once welcomed us into their land during a time of famine. Years later the feelings may have changed, but we must not forget the good that was once extended to us, and we must forgive them. So it is in our own lives. We have to be forgiving.
There is a story of a couple whose life had degenerated to much sniping and arguing. It seemed that they agreed on nothing. They finally started talking about a divorce, but just as they thought that the end was inevitable, they heard a radio playing in the street; it played a song that hearkened back to the days when they had first met, when they were lovers. It had become “their song” and at just this moment, they heard it again. As the song played, their memories went back to those days of young love when anything was possible. They began to consider how wrong everything had gone in their lives; they began to wonder if they could once again, feel that way about each other. So, they had the long talk they never seemed to have time for before, and slowly they reconciled and rediscovered each other. 
I know that not every marriage can be saved by an old familiar tune. Not every friendship can stand the test of time. But our Torah is telling us that before it is too late, we need to touch once again the time when our friendship was in full bloom and to take our differences and let them go. Let go of the hatred, let go of the pain and remember instead, the time when we were friends. 
Rosh Hashana is just weeks away (oy). We have this last month of the year, the month of Elul to begin the process of letting go of our anger, forgetting the pain of the past year and reconciling with our friends. It does not happen quickly; it can take time. We need to stop the cycle of hatred and take a deep breath. We must relax and remember. If Jews can forget the pain and suffering that was imposed on us in Egypt, we can certainly, in our lives, forget the pain that may have been caused by our friends. If we stop, we can hear the music of those better days and let the hatred and anger go. 
Much of what makes up a friendship is the safety of being able to say difficult things to our friends and they can tell us what we sometimes don’t want to hear. We must not let our anger and hatred grow because they felt safe enough to tell us the truth. We need to concentrate on the love that once existed between us and dedicate this time of year to renewing those feelings of kindness and concern. Only then can we fulfill the mitzvah of caring for the Egyptian and only then can we enter the New Year ready to enjoy all the wonders that it has in store for us. 
Only if we can free ourselves from our own pain, can we unlock the sweetness of the New Year and be reconciled with all our friends, old and new. 
May God help us get past the bad feelings we have cultivated for too long this year and help us enter the new year with all our relationships reconciled.
 As we say……. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, March 24 2023 2 Nisan 5783