A light unto the nations

A light unto the nations

First the Agriprocessors meat plant shamed us with allegations of physical abuse of its illegal immigrant workforce. Then Bernard Madoff shamed us by bilking billions of dollars from charities and grandmothers. In light of the corruption arrests last week, the Jewish community is once again reeling with embarrassment.

Four rabbis were accused of money laundering while a fifth Jewish man from a Brooklyn religious community was accused of conspiring to sell human organs.

Anti-Semites have long parroted the charge that Jews are unscrupulous in business and believe that cheating non-Jews is not only permissible but a religious imperative. When Jews perform such nefarious acts as Madoff’s Ponzi scheme or the crimes alleged last week, we only give fuel to these canards.

Through the centuries the Jewish people have always been the biggest enemy of the Jewish people. Yesterday we observed Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. According to our sages, baseless hatred among the Jewish people was responsible for our downfall. If we had only treated one another better, we would not have been exiled. We still have not learned our lesson.

Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Lubavitch, Satmar, Syrian…. The Jewish community is divided among many different groups, and each has its tendencies to look down on the others.

The great sage Rabbi Hillel once said that the core of the Torah is to not do unto others that which is hateful to us. In other words, if you don’t want it done to you, don’t do it to somebody else. This is not limited just to the way we interact with other Jews, but to everybody.

Of course Jews, like any other religious community, are not immune from the lure of criminal gains. There is much more to being Jewish, however, than putting on tefillin, keeping kosher, and going to synagogue. Without the moral code of the Torah we have only empty ritual. We have in the Torah one of the oldest moral codes in existence. The rituals are indeed an important component of Judaism but they are the body, while the ethical and moral lessons are the soul of Jewish practice.

While we are still reflecting on Tisha B’Av, let us not forget these lessons. We should strive to be a light unto the nations and lead the world into a new era of moral behavior.