Shaarei Shamayim

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BERESHIT 5777

BERESHIT 5777

Are you a victim? We live in a society filled with victims. We see it in all the frivolous lawsuits that are filed every day…in the deceptive diagnoses that allows us not to take personal responsibility—like alcohol, gambling or sexual addictions. Yesterday, new scandalous email information was revealed about Hillary Clinton from the investigation into former US Congressman Anthony Weiner—the Husband of Huma Abadin, Hillary’s chief aid. Certainly Hillary has trouble taking responsibility for her misdeeds with her emails and Clinton Foundation. And I don’t even want to get started with Donald Trump. When confronted with the latest evidence against him, Anthony Weiner claimed he needed time to “recover” in a treatment center after being caught sexting again. It seems that whatever bad things we do, it’s not our fault. It’s my addiction; it’s my depression; or it’s my environment.

The Blame Game isn’t new. When asked by Gd if he ate from the forbidden fruit in today’s Torah portion, Adam responded (Gen. 3:12-13): “The woman who You gave to be with me—she gave me of the tree and then I ate.”

          When Gd asked Eve, “What have you done?” she responded: “The snake deceived me and then I ate.”

It seems that not taking responsibility for our actions is as old as the world.

It is told that a rabbi in Auschwitz once said to his followers, “It is possible that Gd is a liar.” His disciples were shocked by his chutzpa and demanded an explanation. The rabbi then said, “Because when Gd looks down at Auschwitz, He says, ‘I am not responsible for this.’ And that is a lie.”

This controversial statement from the 20th century is an echo of a Midrash (Genesis Raba 22:9) of the 2nd century  by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai on the story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-16) also in today’s parsha. Rabbi Shimon raises the question: “Who is really to blame for the murder, Cain or Gd?” He suggests that Gd is the culprit, since Gd could have prevented the murder, had Gd wished to do so.

Rabbi Shimon uses a parable about 2 wrestlers engaged in a contest. The king, who is watching them, can control the outcome by separating them before one kills the other. But the king lets the match continue. Rabbi Shimon suggests that just as the earthly king could have stopped the fight, so the Heavenly king could have stopped Cain from killing Abel.

He supports his argument by citing the verse (Gen. 4:10) where Gd calls Cain to account for his brother: Kol d’mey achicha tzo-akim eylai min ha-adama (The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground). Rabbi Shimon takes note of the word eylai (to Me—Gd) and notes that if read alai it could be understood to mean “against.” The verse would then read, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out against Me from the ground.” Rabbi Shimon implies that Abel’s spilled blood incriminates Gd whose silence during the fight between the brothers involves Him in the killing. This is the same view echoed in the protest of that rabbi in Auschwitz.

Can we not ask the same question? We who see so much violence in the world—in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in the streets of our inner cities like Chicago, in terror attacks in France, Nigeria, Kenya, and even in America—we too can ask, “Where is Gd in the hour of violence?”

Professor Barry W. Holtz of the Jewish Theological Seminary states that there is a flaw in Cain’s argument. Even though we’re created with a yeytzer hara (an evil inclination) by Gd, “we must accept responsibility for the deeds we do without arguing, ‘I should have been made differently,’ because it is impossible to change the nature of our existence.”

Gd challenges Cain with the same question He asked Eve: “What have you done?” It’s as if Gd is saying, “Don’t try to lay the responsibility on Me. Look at the horrible deed you have done.”

In her book, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (p. 212), Yaffa Eliach tells a story of the time she visited Auschwitz with other members of the Holocaust Commission in 1979. On Tisha B’Av they were in the ancient Rema Synagogue in Cracow. Just as they were about to chant Eycha (Lamentations), Miles Lerman, a former partisan and sole survivor of a large family killed by the Nazis, banged on the table at the front of the shul and announced that he was calling Gd to a Din Torah—summoning Gd to court. He then proceeded to state his grievances: “Gd! How could you stay here when next door are Auschwitz and Plaszow? Where were you when all over Europe your sons and daughters were burning on altars? What did You do when my sainted father and mother marched to their deaths? When my sisters and brothers were put to the sword?”

Miles knew that Yaffa Eliach had seen her own mother murdered in front of her eyes. He stepped down and walked over to her and asked: “Do you want to say a few words?” Eliach refused to speak. In her book, she explains why: I declined. No, not I. I have no quarrel with Gd, only with men! I, too, want a trial, but not at the Rema’s Synagogue, not at Nuremberg nor at Frankfort. I would put on trial each Western university and library, for harboring millions of malicious words written against an ancient people, words like murderous daggers hiding beneath the cloak of science and truth—the propaganda of conceited little men. I want to bring to trial the pulpits of countless churches where hate was burning like eternal lights. I want to try the music of Bach and Beethoven for allowing itself to be played while my brethren were led to their deaths. I want to try the botanist for cultivating flowers under the Auschwitz sun, the train conductors with their little red flags for conducting traffic as usual. I want to bring to trial the doctors in their white coats who killed so casually, who exchanged with such great ease the Hippocratic Oath for sheer hypocrisy.

          I want to bring to trial a civilization for whom man was such a worthless being. But to bring Gd to trial? On what charges? For giving men the ability to choose between good and evil?

The story of Cain and Abel was replayed on an immensely larger and much more tragic scale in the Holocaust but the issue is the same. Human beings must take responsibility for what they do and cannot blame Gd. They cannot say as did Geraldine Jones—aka Flip Wilson—“The devil made me do it!”—that is was my addiction, my depression or my environment.

On a visit to the Bronx Zoo some years ago, I went to the Primate House where a long line had formed to see the ape in the cage, above which was written: “The Most Dangerous Animal in the World.” When I reached the “cage,” all that was there was a mirror. There comes a time in our lives when we must take responsibility for our actions regardless of our addictions, depression or environment. May Gd give us the strength to do so. Amen!

                             Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

                             10/29/16

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