Shabbat Messages

Rabbi Steve Leder

Rabbi Steve Leder

Each week, Rabbi Leder prepares a Shabbat message to the congregation. Here on this page you can read his latest message and find an archive of all of his Shabbat Messages since March 13, 2020.

This Week's Message

Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - January 15, 2021

This week, Jews all over the world are reading the beginning of the Moses saga in our synagogues. To me, the great sin of Pharaoh was his indifference to the suffering of others, that of his own people, and that of the Hebrew slaves. 

How does one commit such a sin of indifference to the suffering of others? In a word—objectification. When we objectify others who are different than we are, when we forget that no one’s blood is redder, we take the first terrible step toward oppression, persecution, denial, subjugation, hatred, imprisonment, and murder, even mass murder. 

When the rabbinic sages discussed the plagues nearly two thousand years ago they asked an insightful question about the ninth plague; the plague of darkness. “How dark was this darkness?” they wonder. “What was it like?” They answer with a chilling conclusion, claiming the darkness was so dark that the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Israelites could no longer see the humanity in the other.  

The Pharaoh could not even see the humanity in his own people. None of the disease and disaster the plagues brought to the Egyptian people meant anything to him. It was not until the killing of the firstborn males, the only plague that directly afflicted his family, that the Pharaoh acted.  

We all know how the story ultimately ends. Who hasn’t imagined Pharaoh and his army swallowed up by walls of rushing water from both sides as they pursued the fleeing Israelites? The lesson is stark, simple, and powerful. When we objectify others and therefore feel nothing for their suffering, we will eventually drown in the sea of our indifference. Not to mention that those we objectify are also likely to feel nothing for us when we are lost, powerless, poor, or afraid.
 
The great sage Rabbi Hillel put it this way, “If I am only for myself,” he asked.  “What am I?” Schopenhuare asked this question differently. How is it that an individual can respond to the pain and suffering of another as though it were his own pain and suffering? How is it that an individual can forget his own safety and fly to the help of another at the risk of his own life? 

Schopenhauer’s answer is, this emotion of compassion is the experience of a truth that you and that other are one. That the experience of separateness is secondary; that when we help another human being, when we affirm the oneness of us all, that is when we are closest to God. The first law of biology is self-protection. The first law of the spirit is compassion. Compassion is heaven on earth. Compassion is God.
  
During this seemingly endless pandemic, watching the death of George Floyd and its aftermath, witnessing the frightening and depressing turmoil in Washington DC and who knows where else as the inauguration approaches, we know a complicated truth. There are moments of light, many of them, when we can feel so keenly each other’s suffering, and moments, many of them, when we are in a dark too dark to see and can think only of ourselves.
  
On this Shabbat when we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior we would be wise to remember that there is no guarantee in America that African Americans and Jews will forever be friends. There is no guarantee that democracy will survive when there are many who despite their claims to the contrary, care nothing for the true and most sacred values of our nation. But of this we can be certain and in this we can place our faith; the antidote to indifference and objectification is to show up when sorrow comes to others, to feel for them and to help them, because this weekend, this week, and every minute of every day, we are brothers and sisters all…   

Love and Shabbat Shalom,

Steve

Archive

Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - January 15, 2021

This week, Jews all over the world are reading the beginning of the Moses saga in our synagogues. To me, the great sin of Pharaoh was his indifference to the suffering of others, that of his own people, and that of the Hebrew slaves. 

How does one commit such a sin of indifference to the suffering of others? In a word—objectification. When we objectify others who are different than we are, when we forget that no one’s blood is redder, we take the first terrible step toward oppression, persecution, denial, subjugation, hatred, imprisonment, and murder, even mass murder. 

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