ISSUES OF FAITH: Reach out to combat the spread of hate

A BASIC PRINCIPLE in Judaism and Kabbalistic tradition is the profound regard for all life and that every soul is a fragment of the divine light, though it may be hidden.

The Jewish Bible gives us clear guidelines about how we should treat our fellow human beings. It says no less than 36 times that we should welcome and take care of the stranger:

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).

The Talmud teaches “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.”

In previous columns, I have focused on the difficulty of taking responsibility for our actions and the power of words. I related the story of a rabbi likening our words to feathers blowing in the wind, impossible to take back once they are spoken.

Jewish tradition teaches that lashon hara, the evil tongue, is akin to murder because it harms not only to the person to whom it is directed but to those who hear it and speak it.

Sadly, my fears have come true, with hateful words and rhetoric resulting in heinous actions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog of racism and hate crimes, reports it has catalogued over 700 incidents of hate, harassment and intimidation since the election.

An “explosion” in hate crimes since Election Day has prompted the creation of a special police unit to fight this uptick in New York. Neo-Nazi groups are emboldened and the KKK plans a celebratory parade in North Carolina.

The FBI recently reported that hate crimes have jumped 6 percent in 2015.

These incidents have spared no group: the LBGTQ community, women, immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, the disabled, Jews, Muslims, the elderly and children.

They have occurred at people’s homes, in their cars, on the streets, in businesses, in schools and at places of worship.

There have been both verbal and physical assaults, notes left on doorsteps, vandalism and graffiti painted on cars, homes, businesses, houses of worship and playgrounds.

It is easy to become despondent at the increase in these hateful acts. All of us of good will know that this does not reflect the beliefs and feelings of most people, no matter their politics, religion, race or gender.

So how do we respond? In practical terms, we must connect with those who are not in our “bubble” of friends, volunteer or give financial support to groups that are working to bring justice to our world, and get involved in interfaith events.

Reach out to those who are afraid, letting them know you will stand with them in their fear.

And when you see or hear someone spreading hate and fear, step up and speak up. Remember the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Along with taking action, in spiritual terms, we must remember that the Kabbalists teach us that all people, even those we consider evil, have the holy spark of God within them. Our every action and even our thoughts have the power to make changes in the world.

Rabbi David Cooper says, “Our opportunities to raise sparks are boundless” (God is a Verb).

So, along with taking concrete action, we must remember that even those who hate have that Divine Spark and our task, through our actions, is to release and raise it up to become part of the flame of a holy universe.

Kein yehi Ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community.

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