Sign In Forgot Password

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 20

05/31/2020 02:35:44 PM

May31

Rabbi Jeffrey Miller

Two incidents occurred last week that should disturb everyone with a heart and soul: (I) the death of George Floyd and (ii) the rants of Amy Cooper.  If you are unfamiliar with either, I provide links: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZf_lWZUt-Q
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lirHz93qJ50

Both incidents are of course racially charged.  One resulted in death (murder/manslaughter); the other could easily have devolved into serious harm beyond Ms. Cooper's subsequent firing. To these I would like to add a third, obscure incident, that has not and will not likely make the news.

My son, a Rabbi in Lawrence, NY, was teaching Torah on a Zoom meeting in anticipation of Shavous. There were approximately fifty participants in the virtual audience. Toward the end of his presentation, the class was Zoom-bombed.  Comments such as "N*gg*rs" and "Kill all Jews" and "Bravo, Adolph" interrupted his lecture about God's Torah. It could not be stopped and the class ended prematurely.  I am sure the perpetrators found it quite funny.  I am certain that they are proud at how clever they are. That is how bullies usually feel.

No one died, and no one was wrongfully accused of a felony.  The outcome - disrupting a class such that it had to end early - means that the anecdote hardly belongs in the same category as the death of Mr. Floyd by a callous police officer with his buddies in blue silently watching. Still, that all three stories ended differently is important only as far as their relative newsworthiness. What these stories have in common is that they are about bullies feeling empowered, either by anonymity (Zoom bombers) or a badge (P.O. Derek Chauvin,) or gender, coupled with white skin, and an ability to produce crocodile tears on command (Amy Cooper). Just as there are different ways to skin a cat, there are different ways to act the part of the bully.  

They have something else in common.  The police officers seemed unconcerned that they were being filmed in the act of killing in man. Ms. Cooper cried on a 911 call as she was being filmed calmly by the man she was accusing of harming her.  And the Zoom bombers? They were anonymous but still operating in plain sight (or site), unconcerned and without shame or remorse.

I am disgusted.

Bullies are as old as the Torah itself, whose gift we commemorated this past Yom Tov. The Torah recounts stories of bullies from the opening column onward, perhaps to warn us, perhaps to teach us that there is no escaping contact, perhaps to urge us to act or to caution us of its intoxicating, poisonous, corrupting influences. Even a midrash on creation has a bully (the Moon)!  Avraham encounters bullies, as does his son and grandson.  Noach and Yoseph and Moshe suffer at the hands of bullies. Many stories in the Torah about women are about being bullied in one form or another.

But the Torah that we kiss and chant and honor also teaches us how to react to bullies. We are commanded to stand up to them, even when we are not the targets of their wrath.  For example, Lot defends his guests from the Sodomite bullies.  Moshe, at great personal risk, stands up to an Egyptian bully with a whip.  

God's Torah teaches: 
You shall not pervert the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and you shall not take a widow's garment as security [for a loan].

You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you from there; therefore, I command you to do this thing.

We must be zealous not only to prevent injustice upon us but also upon the stranger, who looks differently or talks differently or worships differently.  When standing up is impossible, maybe photographing the incident is an act of bravery because watching the video enrages us and motivates us to speak up and act.

By: Rabbi Jeffrey Miller

Fri, October 23 2020 5 Cheshvan 5781