July 16, 2024
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Lessons From a Shameful Protest

Wednesday, January 6, was a difficult day for the citizens of the United States of America. In truth, the past year has been filled with troubling events—riots, lootings and shootings. Each act of violence is despicable and should not be tolerated. Nonetheless, in my opinion, there was something more upsetting about the violent protest in our nation’s capital.

As always, we can find comfort and guidance by looking to the Torah.

Sefer Shemot begins with a shortened family tree of Jacob and his 12 sons. Commentators question why the Torah repeats the names of Jacob’s sons when an extensive genealogy is listed a few chapters earlier.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that the Torah repeats the genealogy in order to contrast the family’s status at different points of time. When Jacob’s family initially travelled down to Egypt, they arrived as royalty. The Egyptians rolled out the “red carpet” for all members of Joseph’s family and they were all warmly welcomed and accorded great honor.

By the time Parshat Shemot begins, life in Egypt is drastically different for Jacob’s descendants.
It is a time of persecution and enslavement. Just a few years later, the same respected family is now suffering. The two versions of the family tree are a reminder of how quickly our life circumstances can change.

The stark images of protestors storming the Capitol building also remind us of our vulnerability. The very building that has long represented a stable, democratic and just government was attacked.

Thankfully, the violence only lasted a few hours, and our duly elected officials were able to peacefully resume government business. However, the pictures of violent protestors storming the location that represents the bedrock of our democracy will forever be seared into our collective memory.

What lessons can we learn from this shameful incident?

I believe there are three important takeaways.

Politics. Talking about politics has become so toxic and divisive. The attack on the Capitol is a painful reminder that we must soften our rhetoric and rethink our approach to debating political issues. We must recommit ourselves to speaking cordially and with a sincere openness to other perspectives. Often, we become so firmly entrenched in our beliefs that we simply leave no room to listen, understand and consider alternative approaches. Life is seldom black and white.

Gratitude. When was the last time we considered the blessings of living in the United States of America? Despite the shortcomings (including a troublesome rise in antisemitism), we are still blessed to live in a medinah shel chesed (a country of kindness). The United States remains the shining light of a free democracy around the globe and we are blessed to be its citizens. We should never take that blessing for granted.

Prayer. We must pray for our elected officials. The protest in DC was a jarring reminder of the dangers of anarchy. As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches: Rabbi Hanina, the vice-high priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive. We must offer heartfelt prayers to God that our elected officials remain safe and that our democracy continues to thrive.

The dangers of anarchy were on full display on January 6. A just and orderly society depends on upstanding citizens and G-d’s assistance. We are responsible for both: acting with integrity and praying with sincerity.

May God bless the United States of America.

Rabbi Zev Goldberg is the rabbi of The Young Israel of Fort Lee. He is also the newly elected president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

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