Parashat Naso I

Friday, May 29, 2020 /6 Sivan, 5780
Parashat Naso I Numbers 4:21-5:31

Dear Friends,

When asked to sum up the teachings of Torah, Rabbi Hillel famously replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” For all the laws and words of inspiration contained within our vast body of sacred literature, Hillel deemed our actions towards our fellow human beings as most important. But Hillel did not end there. “The rest is commentary,” he taught. “Now go and study.” (T.B. Shabbat 31a)

Today is Shavuot, the anniversary of the day that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. We celebrate by reading the Ten Commandments, which our confirmands will lead us in this evening. We pray, eat delicious dairy foods such as blintzes and cheesecake, and put aside time to do what Hillel asks of us, to go and study.

Hillel’s short summation of the Torah feels like a fitting place to begin. His short statement of care is one of the most studied texts in our tradition for good reason. We all want to be treated with kindness, and we desire to spread kindness in this world. For all that good intention, his teaching remains, at times, incredibly difficult. We so often miss the mark.

A friend recently reached out to me. “I’m so torn up about what’s happening in our world,” she said. “He looks at the news and sees a white woman threaten to call the cops on him because he asks her to put a leash on her dog. He sees that an unarmed black man who went for a jog was chased down and shot when he did nothing wrong. And it took months the police to pursue charges. And he fears what might happen to him because of the color of his skin.”

My friend’s worries are all too common. Parents are forced to have “the talk” with children of color. Don’t argue. Don’t raise your voice, even when others are treating you as less than human. Stay calm.

As I study Hillel’s words this Shavuot, I wonder about the conversations each of us can be having with our families. It is a white child that grows into a woman who threatens to call the cops and lie that a black man is threatening her. It is a white man who doesn’t listen to the black man’s gasps for air and pleas that he can’t breathe. It is a white child who decides to chase down an innocent man and shoot him because he looks like someone who might have been robbing homes.

Such injustice is not just a problem for people of color. It is cancer that diminishes the very foundation of our democracy, and stands in the face of our religious teachings.

“That what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor,” Hillel teaches. We must hear the cries of our brothers and sisters. Now is the time to consider how we can be part of the solution. This Shavuot, as we renew our sacred connection to Torah, may we also recommit ourselves to creating a more just world. The rest is commentary. Now go and study.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail