March 23, 2012 admin

The greatest wrong

I felt it was essential to write to the head teacher of the Ozar Torah school in Toulouse:

I’m writing on behalf of my community to express our horror, sorrow, anguish, pain and fellow-feeling for all of you, – the parents who have lost their dear children, your staff who have lost a faithful teacher, and all the Jewish congregation and people of Toulouse and France. May God give you strength, comfort, wisdom and guidance in these sad and hard times.

May the all-present God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

People should be remembered not just in general, but by their names and their lives, however tragically short. I have since learnt that those murdered are Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his children Gavriel and Aryeh, as well as Miriam Monsonego. I do not know the names of the other victims of the killer.

Deeply connected with this extraordinarily cruel and violent crime is an issue which goes to the heart of religion; it is a matter which concerns not just the few, or the extremists, but all of us. A few months ago I was part of a group of rabbis meeting a gathering of imams. The question was discussed: What is the best example we can offer through our role, and what, by contrast is the worst?

The answer to my mind is clear, especially when we take into account the fact that the pulpit has real power. It is not only economic opportunism which arms violent maniacs, terror organisations, gangs, militias, and sometimes whole armies. Even more powerful can be what we say about the other, especially what we say about that other in the name of God. Hatred inspired by religion has been one of the most malevolent forces in history. Its role in the future is yet to be seen, but leaves ample grounds for fear.

The greatest wrong religious leaders and congregations can do is to teach their own community to hate. It makes no moral difference whom the object of that hate is, Jews, Muslims, or non-believers. It makes little difference whether that hatred is conveyed through the application of sacred text, the appeal to dogma, the harnessing of popular discontent or the desire to find a cheap and easy way to create identity. It is wrong.

The greatest responsibility of religious leadership and community is to understand, respect and teach that all life is sacred, that God can be present in the heart and revealed in the actions of any human being, irrespective of whatever faith he or she may or may not profess, and that all life and especially all people are to be treated in a spirit of respect, understanding, mercy and justice.

Only the very greatest human beings have truly managed to conduct their daily lives according to these truths. But it remains the responsibility of us all to try to do so.

The truths that all life is sacred and that all life seeks our respect and compassionate concern are not naïve. They are not some flight-of-fancy, foolish and blind alternative to taking measures to protect our children, all children, and ourselves. As and where needed, such measures must be taken with alacrity and intelligence.

But the core of the struggle in each human life, in humanity in general and for the future of the world, is whether there is more compassion, understanding and love, or more fear and hatred, in each and all of our hearts.

Nothing can requite the gratuitous murder of children, just as nothing can justify it. The most valuable response is for each of us to try to increase the amount of compassion in the world.

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