We live in turbulent times when in the past months—and as recently as last week—the level of anti-Semitism is on the rise. The Providence Police arranged for extra protection, agencies nationwide sent out security messages, schools sent out security plans and national Jewish agencies galvanized in support of our schools and shuls. On Monday, the Jewish Alliance of RI convened for a candlelight vigil, which was attended in large numbers by the entire Rhode Island community, gathered in solidarity to decry anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.
As I left the event and throughout the week, I pondered whether there was a special meaning or message/s behind the recent tragic event, and what our response should be. As always, answers to these questions can be found in the Torah. We learn that as our forefather Yaakov prepared to meet his sworn enemy, his brother Esav, he engaged in three acts. He prepared gifts for his brother, he davened to Hashem, and prepared for war. I know that the analogy is not exactly the same. Still, let me share with you the personal lesson I learned, and the insight that I gleaned from this Torah story.
In dealing with any tragedy that befalls us and all of Klal Yisrael, we respond in three ways.
1. The first is a plea from Hashem for us to end divisions in Klal Yisrael. The verse in Eishes Chayil sung over Shabbos tells us “vetoras chesed cl leshona – and the Torah of chesed is on her lips.” In a liberal selfie world, the motto echoes a message of “it’s all about me.” I heard a fellow interviewed on the radio who said, “If I win the billion dollar lottery I will keep it all for myself. It all belongs to me.” The Torah, however, warns us that we must be people whose lifestyle reflects and focuses on others. We must be people who care for others; giving and caring are a part of our daily lives. We must educate our children with these values as well as with the knowledge and understanding that Hashem loves them and us and that with that love comes responsibility to all of Klal Yisrael. Our acts of tzedaka and chesed create a stirring above as we implore Hashem to utilize the midas harachamim, the middah of mercy, with us and all of our people.
2. The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva states that “One is obligated to cry out on any tzara, calamity, that befalls our people. Just as Yaakov prepared to meet his brother with Tefilla we must all strengthen our tefila and realize that ‘ein od milvado – there is no one other than Hashem.’” Our tefilos really count!
3. The third way Yaakov prepared was by preparing to go to war. In this particular case, the war against anti-Semitism needs to be fought in the boardrooms of our federations, the halls of Congress, and in partnership with our elected officials. On a local level, we joined in solidarity at the vigil arranged by the Jewish Alliance of RI. We also thank the Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union for continuing to maintain a strong presence in Washington, lobbying for us on issues such as security, school choice, and new and improved services and funding. These agencies are our first guard on Capitol Hill, as they work to ensure that our many interests are protected. Still, with all our efforts we must always be reminded that Hashem is the shomer Yisrael.
As you are all aware, the school is currently planning an important fundraising campaign so that we can continue our renovation of the school and our quest to improve the quality of education that we provide. Please review the campaign information and sign up to volunteer at the event and to make phone calls to share the word with your family and friends. Together we will be successful!
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman