Sunday, April 21, 2013

God on Our Side (Portion Emor)

God’s reputation depends on our actions.

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, teaches: “You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites.” In their book, Teaching Torah, Barbara Binder Kadden and Sorel Goldberg Loeb note that the Rabbis interpret this verse as a challenge to us, the Jewish people: God asks us to uphold God’s reputation by maintaining the highest standards of ethical behavior.

This is why it is so awful when people commit atrocities in the name of religion.  Alas, human history is full of such profanation.  Consider our suffering under Christendom for so many centuries: Crusades, blood libel, massacres and expulsions, all orchestrated by “holy” men in the service of the church.   In our own time, we have witnessed countless acts of terror performed in the name of Islam.  And we Jews are not immune to this scourge.  Although our religiously-driven barbarisms and brutalities are arguably fewer and smaller in scale, we, too, have profaned God’s name through faith-based injustices against our Arab and Palestinian neighbors and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.

Of course the vast majority of us have no sympathy for assassins and terrorists.  But we, too, might ask: how does our faith move us to live?  Does it compel us to be a source of holiness in the world?  Or does it empower us to criticize others—also created in God’s image—and to scorn those we see as less pious than ourselves?    In the end, I believe that any teachings that would have us act hatefully toward others—Jewish or not—do not really come from God.   Religion should never be an excuse to exploit God’s creation or mistreat our fellow men and women.    Such actions are, by definition, the opposite of holy.  They are shameful, profaning God’s name. 

Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a song of protest over such profanation, called, “With God on Our Side.”  He sings of all the unjust wars launched in God’s name and concludes:

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

When is God on our side?  When we show kindness, work for justice, and strive for peace.  These actions are worthy of the reputation of the God we claim to serve.

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