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Berayshit 5784     October 14, 2023

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom – (Oh how I wish there would be Shalom!)

Since this is Parshat Berayshit, let us take this from the Beginning. Cain kills his brother Abel. God gives Cain a chance to own up to what he has done, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain does not reply “I killed him”, “I hated him”, “I didn’t like that he was better than me”. Cain says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “How should I know where he is and what he is up to?”

But Cain knows full well where his brother is and what has happened, but he tried to hide what he has done from God. There was no example of death in the world until Cain killed Abel. We can try and be kind and assume that Cain did not know exactly what he had done. But we can also imagine the pain of Eve, who has had one son murdered by her other son. First, they were kicked out of Eden and now the death of her child. As if that is not enough, her remaining son is exiled with a mark that shows the world who he is and what he has done.

Seven generations later, his descendant, Lamach, will learn how to kill even more people. But he will be the last of the line of Cain. That line will die out. It will be no more. Whatever good his other descendants may have accomplished, will be forever forgotten in this family of killers who have been removed from history. Adam and Eve will have another son, Seth, and his line will live on for ten generations, but even this line of human beings will be tainted by violence. Human beings will become so corrupted that God will choose to wipe them all, literally, off the face of the earth. There will be a flood; only one family will survive. Humanity will have a chance to start over.

It doesn’t help. Human beings have a streak of violence inside us that cannot be erased, not even by God. We have a Yetzer HaRa, an evil inclination that can get so out of control that other people will die. The angels in our Parsha are asked by God if God should create human beings. According to the Midrash, there was great consternation in heaven. Most of the Angels begged God NOT to create human beings. There was too much that could go wrong. There was too much that would go wrong. They will lie and cheat and kill each other. That is the truth. Don’t do it God, the world you created is perfect, don’t mess it up by creating human beings!

God didn’t listen. Adam and Eve were created, Male and Female, and all the predictions of the Angels came true.

The sages of the Talmud debated for years whether or not it was a good thing that human beings were created. In the end, they decided that it would have been better if humans had NOT been created, but now that we exist in this world, let us examine our deeds so that we may be worthy of the life we have been given.

We have started to read the Torah again from the beginning. It is considered the blueprint of what God wants from this world. We are commanded to end violence. To be “Shomrim” guardians of the planet, to bring life and peace into the world. We are to hold that there is one God in the world, not competing powers that are fighting for dominance. We are commanded to bring Justice and kindness into the world. To bring compassion and love into the world. And we are to teach these lessons of Torah to all the other nations.

Cain is still killing Abel. Picking up a rock and striking him dead. His blood cries out from the ground and Cain still doesn’t care. Who cares if a few Jews die? After the Holocaust where six million Jews died, what is a few hundred more? What does it matter why we killed them. When you hate someone that much, one reason to kill is just as good as another. The Torah tells us that there are violent animals in the world, violent people who act like animals. Violent people whose hands are red with innocent blood. Does it really prove superiority to go out and kill innocent, unarmed men, women, children, and infants? How macho is it that others can kill Jews who are unable to fight back? How important does it make someone feel to leave bloody footprints on the floors and video the killings in order to put your murders up on social media showing the world your ability to slaughter innocent lambs?

What difference does it make? People have been killing Jews for thousands of years. We don’t even have all the names of our people martyred because they were Jews. The evil ones even desecrate our cemeteries because even in death we don’t count. Why? Why do so many people hate us? Is it because we remind them that God’s plan for the world includes kindness and compassion, justice, and peace? Maybe if they kill us all they will not have to worry about such things anymore. They can go and kill all the other people they hate with impunity. We are just canaries in coal mines, when the poison of hate kills us, it can only spread to others who are hated, because of the color of their skin, because of who they love, because they are different.

Now our people have been taken hostage in Gaza. Gaza is the homeland of hostages. Everyone who is not a militant, who does not carry a gun in Gaza is a hostage, a human shield. Another body to prove that those who come after the murderers are murderers themselves. In this twisted world murderers are innocent lambs and those who would bring them to justice are the murderers of women and children. An Israeli soldier was given an award by the president of Israel because the last time the army went into Gaza, his company was assigned to clear a building that was to be destroyed. They went room to room to make sure the building was empty. When they got to one room, the door was locked. They broke it open and found Gazan civilians locked on the roof with a used missile launcher, human shields to prove that Israelis were killers. They were all saved, and the soldier received a medal for saving lives.

The killing has not stopped. It will not stop soon. The killers have too much blood on their hands to stop killing now. They have tasted blood and desire to taste more. Children and teens are being told to suspend activity on Instagram and Tic Tok because when the hostages are executed, and it is reasonably sure that some will be executed, it will be shown live on social media and even in this season of slasher movies, this is too real life to expose our children to the bloody frenzy.

The blood of the innocent cries out from the ground. Just as it has since the murder of Abel. We cry out for revenge. We demand an eye for an eye, a limb for a limb, a life for a life. I don’t believe in this kind of revenge. Their lives are not worthy enough to balance out the lives of the Jews we have lost. The Jews of the towns along the border with Gaza are martyrs. Those who killed them want to be martyrs too. But one has to be innocent to be a martyr. They are not innocent. They all carry the mark of Cain. They can only be despised.

Even God discovered that violence can not destroy violence. Wiping out humanity does not wipe out our violent nature. Violence is a disease that, in the end, kills those who live by killing. The violent eventually turn on themselves and their lineage has no future.

The future belongs to the good people of this world. The people who are appalled by the violence, who respond with kindness and compassion for those who are injured or grieving. The good people who open their arms to those in pain and who help them rebuild their lives. There are far more people who mourn with us than there are people who celebrate the slaughter. More killing will only lead to more killing. What is needed is not revenge but Justice.

Only Justice can wash away the bloodstains and leave us feeling renewed and alive. Only Justice is the proper response to martyrdom. Let criminals face Justice. Let them experience the pain and horror they inflicted on others. Let them see for themselves what they have unleashed into the world. We can honor our dead, but we don’t honor them with more blood. We honor them by bringing an end to the bloodshed. We don’t need more pain; we have enough pain already. We need peace, for the dead and for the living.

I don’t know what justice would look like for those who killed our people last weekend. I wonder what good people on a jury, what a good judge would decide to do with those who have feasted on the blood of the innocent. I don’t know what punishment they should bear. I only know that I don’t want Jewish children to ever have to need to feast on the blood of others. Revenge will not bring peace to this planet. It will not bring our hostages home. It will not bring back the dead. Revenge will only kill our own souls. Only Justice can save us. It always has and it always will.

I don’t know how a person can live with hate. Hate can only consume us. It will devour us if we let it. It has shown how it can make a human being act inhumanly. Hate does make us love life; it is a cancer that only spawns more hate. Those who have died need Justice. Those of us who live need love. We need to hold each other more tightly. We need to stand by each other and support each other. We need to bring kindness and compassion to those who grieve, and we must bring healing to those wounded in both body and soul.

In the end we will not be judged according to our righteous anger, but by how we stood together in the darkness and pushed away the shadows with the light of our love.

I know, this is a hard lesson. It is hard for me to write this and sometimes it is hard for me to believe it. I only have my faith and if I give up on my faith, there is only a dark pit before me, infinitely deep. I can’t go there. I will not go there.

I can only ask you, my friends and loved ones, my congregation, and my people, let us not go into the pit of despair. Let us cling to our faith. Let us cling to Torah. Let us cling to God our creator.

May God bring us peace, please God, please God, bring us peace.  

 Amen and may we have true Shalom this Shabbat.

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784