“Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.” Leviticus 24:14 (NIV)
I am a Jewish extremist. At least that was the joke in our class, in the last few years, when we talked about personal religious observance. If we made a poll about religious views, I would definitely end up as the representative of the right wing of the Leo Baeck College. But joking about religious extremism became rather problematic after the attack in Toulouse. Its impact was huge on the community, so big that its long term effects on communal life still cannot be seen.
What poses one of the biggest difficulties is the comprehension of the level of destruction, that a person can make in a few moments. The murderer simply pulled the trigger couple of times, and ended lives, shattering hearts and devastating hope and faith. This is extremism in its most evil appearance, in its full capacity.
But every tragedy has its heroes, from whom we can gain true inspiration. What really moves me is how parents reacted to the events. Many families were deeply affected by the attack, by the children witnessing the event, or seeing the corpses of children. These families are now on the edge of falling apart. But the parents (together with their children) are the real heroes of this story. I witness their daily struggle to keep together and maintain their families. What one person destroyed in few moments, for them it will take years to rebuild. But they do not give up. Day by day, they take their children to the same school, the same place they witnessed the unimaginable. They go to therapy, talk with each other, and try to understand and mend their broken lives. They come to synagogue, even though, since the 19th of March, every Jewish communal place is on high alert. This is gevurah, heroism.
Because the only way to answer the extremism of destruction, is with the actions of extreme compassion.
The prayer Gevurah talks about this:
Ata gibor leolam Adonai mehayei metim ata rav lehoshia
“You are a hero Eternal, you revive the dead, you are great in redeeming.”
While the nature of the extremist is to kill and destroy, divine heroism is about reviving the dead. Don’t read it literally. The word “dead” here does not necessarily mean “dead persons”. It also refers to our dead hopes, lost opportunities and irrevocable mistakes. We pray to God, to feel this compassion, which resurrects our faith, and heals our wounds. But by reciting these words, we also set a task for ourselves. By imitating the example of divine heroism, we act to revive the dead hopes in ourselves and in others. As current and future religious leaders, we need to become the extremists of compassion. Our enemies are not human beings, but rather attitudes like the love of violence, the adoration of money and power, of pessimism and ignorance. They are our biggest opponents in this fight, whether we find them in ourselves or in others. We shall spread the message of healing, love and understanding. In this, we shall accept no compromises.
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.