Those in Glass Houses

Crazy people will do crazy things, but they still have to work within the parameters of the sane. Whether with the recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords or Rabin, people did bad things in the name of what they thought were just causes. The words we use to talk about our enemies frames the limits of how we should treat them.

In BeShalach, this week’s Torah portion, we read the Song of the Sea. It is a poem said by Moses after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. There was one line from the poem that I have not been able to get out of my mind during this week of national grieving. There we read, “The deeps cover them–they went down into the depths like a stone” ( Exodus 15:5) The simple meaning is that the approaching Egyptians fell into the water of the Red Sea as fast as a descending rock in water. But on another level it speaks of the trivial nature of their value. In this sense this rhetoric speaks of a certain lack of compassion.

Later in their journey toward the Promised Land, Moses is told that he must speak to get water from a rock for the complaining Israelites. And sure enough Moses hits the rock instead of talking to it. We attribute Moses not being allowed to enter the land to his hitting the rock.

When we were young we used to say, ” Sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In the wake of recent events, I have come to realize how wrong that idea was. Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words can really hurt too.  The words we use create the context for all of the other actions we take.  When Moses speaks of the Egyptians as just rocks, they are expendable. Later as in the case of getting water from the rock, it seems as if he is being asked to read the metaphor the other way around. Can Moses model confronting their oppressors with civil discourse and overcoming the urge to just use force?

The temptation to use force or hyperbolic rhetoric is natural, but it does not mean it will help us create a sustainable future. Understanding that every human being has inalienable rights is the bedrock of a just society. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard when we seek to bring about justice. We must follow the model of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in fighting injustice with eloquence that strives to evoke the  divine potential in all of us, the oppressed and the oppressor. Only at that point will we all be free to sing a song of freedom.

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