By Rabbi David Weizman
Have you ever been asked a question that left you speechless? That happens to me all the time, just because things take a few seconds to register. People tell me that I am supposed to say the words, “I’m thinking” so that the other person will know that I heard them. I’m working on that. The other day I watched an interview with Joe Kennedy III, and it happened to him too. He said, “I seem to be doing a lot of that lately,” coming up speechless. On the other hand, there are those who don’t miss a beat when asked a question or some event makes a big splash on social media. I wish I could be a little more like them, with the proper filters of course. We have a friend who always comes out with a prayer for the victims of the earthquake five minutes after it happens. I think he’s a prophet.
You know, back in the 70’s, it was more challenging to get your opinion out there, unless you were E.F. Hutton. But nowadays, it’s all about the followers. You can come up with some really kooky stuff or even the most mundane and meaningless YouTube gig, and the next thing you know, you have 50,000 followers. I could never take that kind of pressure, let alone keep up with the posting. My Instagram account has been dormant for about eight months. But lots of other people nowadays are getting the word around. Just in case you don’t want Neo-Nazis in the work force of your company, subscribe to “yesyoureracist” to see the guys on the right side of things in Charlottesville last Saturday. I didn’t see it yet, but there is probably an Instagram account that posts the photos of those counter-demonstrators, just in case you want to identify those bullies. What were they thinking, both sides, that they were going to have a nice little demonstration to express their opinions about some statue? I’m not so sure that you need all those guns and shields and helmets, we get the point with the torches: they’re coming for us. I think it took a lot of courage, actually, to counter the hate speech that our constitution so fully protects and upheld this past June in the Slants case. You can say whatever you want, but you can’t hit people with a flagpole in the head. OK, so maybe the police were not quick enough to step in.
Then there is this guy from Ohio, a Hitler groupie, who uses his car as a lethal weapon, and they are calling him “a domestic terrorist.” Does that mean that he is a separate case, like he came uninvited?
That is the whole point; he was invited. And so was that guy who shot those two Indian engineers, in Olathe, Kansas last February, and the guy who tried to intervene, oops. Because even though you’re allowed to say anything you want in this country, allowing words of hatred to go unanswered, validates the hatred, and that opens the possibilities for violence.
In Jewish law, we don’t have the Fifth Amendment. When the court asks you, did you transgress, you have to answer yes or no. If you say nothing, Shtika K’hoda’ah-Domya, silence means admission. The phrase is used in conversation as, silence means consent. There were a variety of people who stood up to those White Supremacists last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, who stood for their own cause, but they were also standing up for the Jewish people, because we are clearly a priority on the agenda; “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.” And we should stand up for them too, whoever is a target of discrimination and such extreme prejudice.
When we begin our communal prayer in the morning, we stand for the opening of Pesukei D’Zimra, the verses of song that praise God through the Psalms. The opening poem begins like this:
“Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being. Blessed is He.
We are the beings, made in the image of God, who imagine a concept, and assign it a word.
Baruch Omer v’Oseh, Blessed is the One who speaks, and that utterance comes into being.”
This is the power of the word. Let us use it for a blessing and not a curse.