Friday, July 31, 2015

The Torah Drug (thoughts after violence at Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and arson/murder in Nablus)

How do we make sense of two terrible acts of violence in Israel yesterday, perpetrated by murderous Jewish extremists in Jerusalem and Nablus?

The Talmud interprets a verse from this week's Torah portion of Va'ethanan - a well-known verse that is recited every time the torah is lifted: 'Ve-zot ha-torah asher sam moshe lifnei b'nei yisrael.'
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי מאי דכתיב (דברים ד, מד) וזאת התורה אשר שם משה זכה נעשית לו סם חיים לא זכה נעשית לו סם מיתה (יומא דף עב עמוד ב)
"Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: what is the meaning of the verse, 'This is the Torah that Moses placed [before the people of Israel]'?
[The Hebrew word 'sam,' meaning 'placed,' can also mean 'drug.'] For one who has merit, the Torah becomes a drug that sustains life. For one who does not have merit, the Torah becomes a drug that brings death.' (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yoma 72b)
The rabbis knew that a powerful drug can bring healing when used as directed, but that same drug can wreak terrible havoc on someone's life and even kill when used irresponsibly. The Torah is such a powerful drug. The same Torah that most of us try to use as a positive force in the world is wielded by others as an instrument of violence, repression, and even murder. (And such is true about the teachings of many other religions, that sustain life or hasten death depending on who is wielding them.) For those of us who love the Torah, it is painful to be reminded that the Torah has such a value-neutral quality. But when we forget that the Torah can be used to promote evil, we cease to be appropriately vigilant against the evildoers in our midst.
Today we pray for healing and comfort for innocents injured and bereaved by Jews using the Torah as a dangerous drug of death, in Jerusalem and Nablus. And we unite with what we pray is the overwhelming majority of Jews in committing ourselves to the use of the Torah only as a substance that promotes life, health and peace.

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