Monday, March 13, 2006
Spent the weekend in Rochester visiting the in-laws (always a treat for my son) and so had the opportunity to visit the synagogue we used to attend when my wife and I lived there. And the rabbi gave an interesting sermon apropos of Purim (which starts tonight). He compared the position of the Jewish community in America today with Queen Esther's position in King Ahashuerus's Persia: that is to say, a position of power or, more precisely, profound influence on those who wield power. And, he said, that power implies responsibility - specifically, the responsibility to use it to prevent grave wrong (as Esther did in acting to prevent the genocide of the Jews). He went on to urge the congregants to write letters to Congress to press for stronger action on the situation in Darfur.
Now, this is not an argument I've heard very often. Usually, when I hear a Jewish exhortation to the flock to do something about this or that injustice, and to be especially sure to take such action because you (the hearer) are Jewish, the reasoning takes one of three forms. Either (1) we Jews have suffered, so we should be acutely sensitive to others' suffering, and not accept the excuses of those who either perpetrate or ignore that suffering; or (2) as God liberated the Jews from captivity in Egypt, and as we are enjoined to imitate God in His striving for justice, we have a religious obligation as Jews to help the oppressed; or (3) Jews should be aware of our collective vulnerability, historical and continuing, and therefore for our own good always take the other side of the kinds of groups, movements and individuals who have victimized us in the past, and who could threaten us again in the future. Nothing wrong with any of these arguments. But you (or at least I) rarely hear a Jewish leader saying, in so many words, that Jews must act to prevent this or that injustice because we are powerful, and power implies responsibility.
Interesting, I thought.