Darfur and Caring
Since no one else posted, I will offer a few thoughts in the waning hours of a weekend spent mostly struggling to write a fair final for my law school students.
Our reaction to, and involvement in, the ongoing tragedy in Darfur is complex, and might just allow for multiple defensible positions. (I have mine, but suspect that reasonable people will differ. Needless to say, I am proud that my immediate superior at my day job journeyed to the Sudan two years ago, at the invitation of the heads of the government, who were looking for a way out of their impasse, and some Western acceptance if they succeeded. He negotiated with them with his yarmulke atop his head. It almost worked, but then the Arab Muslims decided to start slaughtering black Muslims in a different region, rather than black Christians as they had been doing. The deal collapsed.)
I have no argument with those who lived near Washington and decided not to attend the rally on Sunday, arguing that no human being can make every just and pressing cause his or her own, and that they had other causes that needed attending to. I have no argument if – and only if – the next time they tell their children about the Holocaust, and tell them how the entire world abandoned the Jews and did not raise a hue and a cry to save them, that they consider their own reaction to the deaths of literally millions of human beings.
I have no argument with those who traveled to Washington and participated, and made a point of flaunting their Jewishness so that others would take heed of their care and concern. I have no argument if – and only if – they can offer some set of guidelines to determine when the parochial needs of our own community, and of our own avodah of Torah and mitzvos, must be put before the needs of others. (I completely reject the activity of some rabbis last Tzom Gedalyah to turn that fast day into a day of remembrance for Darfur in order to make it more “relevant” to their congregants.)
I am disappointed in a major way with two groups.
I have no easy way to understand or accept the rather minimal participation of African-Americans in the rally on Sunday, and the smaller rally here in Los Angeles last week. I just don’t get it.
I am disappointed at those within our own community who gave the rally no thought at all, and are thinking about it for the first time as they are reading these lines. If you struggled with the issue – more power to you. If you were oblivious to it, if you did not even frame a position in your own mind to the ongoing slaughter of huge numbers of people, I am disappointed. Not participating for good reason is defensible. Not caring is not.
People will surely take offense at this summary judgment. Allow me to introduce a few lines written by one of the giants of the 20th century in my defense. (It is offered in loose translation as the effects of the last cup of coffee have largely worn off, after giving a late night shiur on Maharal. Mistakes are hereby anticipated.)
Love of all human beings must be alive within a person’s heart and soul. This means the love of every individual, and the love for all nations, the desire for their advancement and their firm standing in both spiritual and material senses. Hatred must be reserved for the evil [i.e. not the evildoers] and for corruption. It is impossible to arrive at the elevation of spirit inherent in the cry, “Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, make His acts known among the peoples” without an inner love, from the depths of the heart and soul, to do good to all nations, to develop their resources and to bring happiness to their lives. It is this capacity that allows for the the spirit of Mashiach to take hold of the Jewish people…Love of all humans requires much attention, to extend it to its proper limits, against the superficiality that sometimes surfaces from an incomplete understanding of Torah texts and of common decency. It sometimes seems that there is opposition (or at least equanimity) in these areas to the love which in fact must constantly suffuse all parts of the soul…It must spread to all people without exception, despite differences in ideology and religion and belief, and despite differences in race and climate…
Most will have guessed that the author of these lines was Rav Kook, zt”l (Midos HaRayah, Ahavah, 5, 10). It is not at all surprising that he goes on in the next paragraphs to speak of the even greater love we must have for those special people of excellence (talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), community leaders) who make the Light of Hashem more visible to the rest of us.
He knew how to balance universalism and particularism. The rest of us should have the merit to at least try!