Bechukotai: Bigotry no sanction

bigotry no sanctionThis is a good week, Torah-wise, combining three of my favorite things:  meaningful text, contemporary American politics, and (of course) Broadway.

“I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone..” (Lev 26:6)

In “Hamilton”, (One Last Time), George Washington sings, “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,and no one shall make them afraid…I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree”, which of course, is a quote not only from the book of the Prophet Micah, but they are also the words Washington used in his 1790 letter to the synagogue in Rhode Island, promising Jews in this country that “bigotry [will have] no sanction, persecution no assistance.” You can see the letter hanging on the wall at the Touro synagogue in Providence; I highly recommend it.

I open in “Cabaret” this weekend.  I have not gone out of my way to see the play too often; it’s quite a difficult show to watch.  It’s even harder to play, but this role of Fraulein Schneider was too good to pass up.  I’m on the “other side” of the fence now, playing an older German woman who breaks her engagement with Herr Schultz because he is a Jew, and the threat of the Nazis can no longer be dismissed.  She must survive, and to do so, she can’t be married to a Jew.

In the parasha, God is talking about ridding the land of enemies, beasts, anything that will frighten the people.   Ramban (13thc Spain) knew it went deeper, “There will be peace among you, and you will not fight with each other”.  The most oft-stated commandment in the Torah is to accept the “stranger” specifically because the Israelite knew what it was like to be a stranger.   Yes, the world today is a dangerous place, but our threats are not only external.  The beasts of bigotry come from within our country; loud, crass voices are threatening to rip us apart, turn us against each other, and maliciously reap benefits from the chaos left in the wake.

To live Jewishly is to be tolerant, even welcoming.  The greatest academic rivalry in Jewish history was between the first century scholars, Hillel and Shammai.  They each led a greatly renowned house of study.  They disagreed on almost every single point of Jewish law and practice.  Yet they quoted each other’s commentary and insisted on mutual respect from their students.

External threats can be met and external fears can be calmed by working together.  Internal, divisive intolerance only makes the external threats more frightening, since we will already have been torn apart from the inside.  Standing on stage, hearing the creepy Nazi song, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is all the more terrifying to my character, because she sees those around her being swept up by the hate, and she can’t get out of the way.  We still have time to get out of the way of the waves of bigotry threatening our country.  George Washington knew the connection between turning away from bigotry and feeling at peace in one’s own land.  If we forget that, if we give bigotry sanction, and persecution assistance, no one will lie down untroubled.


PS…if you are in the Chicago area, my show runs June 3-11, weekends, at the Devenshire Playhouse in Skokie.  For tickets and details, click here.

PPS…if you are in the Chicago area, I am honored to be giving an ELI talk (like a Jewish TED talk) on Wednesday June 8 at the Kaplan JCC in Skokie. For details, click here.


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