Rabbi Answers Death With A Call To Life At The Border
By Rabbi Josh Whinston
Bereshit, the Book of Genesis, is always reinvigorating for me. After closing our Torah reading cycle with Deuteronomy, we return to the birth of the world and beginnings of our people. The narratives that touch on the life of Abraham are always quite moving for me each year when we read them. From his call to leave his father’s house to a land that God will show him, to his arguing with God about destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It tells you something about me that my favorite verse in all of the Torah is Genesis 18:25. At the beginning of their back and forth about the number of good people necessary to spare the cities, Abraham says to God, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” And it is truly the part of the verse that always fills me with pride for our tradition. Abraham is speaking to the greatest power in the entire Universe and has the audacity to say, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
As much as I love Abraham’s willingness to stand up for justice, his interaction with God just a few verses prior is a glimpse into the character of the man who is the father of our tradition. In Genesis 18:1, Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent, speaking with God. We don’t know about what they are speaking, but the rabbinic tradition has suggested that God was performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick, since Abraham was recovering from his circumcision. In the midst of their conversation, Abraham sees three men approaching, and without even ending his conversation with God, Abraham jumps up and runs out to greet the visitors.
Again, from the rabbinic tradition in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a, we find the assertion that “greeting the stranger is greater than welcoming the presence of God.”
The two Abrahamic moments have informed our people for thousands of years and they must continue to move us to action today. As has been reported in major news media outlets for weeks, there is currently a camp in Tornillo, TX housing more than 1,600 undocumented minors, most of whom crossed our southern border unaccompanied by an adult. Along with colleagues from across the country and organizations such as Faith In Action and Immigrant Families we are planning a caravan to Tornillo and a rally near the tent camp.
When there are nearly 2,000 children being held in a tent camp in the Texas desert, we are dealing with an emergency. I am sure the Jewish community would not stand for such treatment of Jewish kids, even if those kids were truly criminals. We are hoping our action in Tornillo will accomplish a few important changes. This camp must be shut down as quickly as possible, the welfare of children should always outweigh the immigration status of those involved. This camp must have regular public oversight, it currently is lacking this important safeguard for child welfare. There must be accessible education for the children being held in the camp with certified teachers in the classrooms.
I hope that many members of the Jewish community will join us on the caravan and that even more will fly to El Paso, Texas to participate in a rally we are calling, “Let Our Families Go.”
That the man who shot and killed Jewish people in Pittsburgh this weekend used our Jewish conviction of welcoming the stranger and giving shelter to those in need as fodder for his anti-Semitic bile, only strengthens my desire to be on the border and raise my voice for the immigrant community. For when they come for one of us, they are really coming for all of us.
Join us on November 15, 2018, and help ensure that our country continues to live up to the values our ancestor Abraham proclaimed through his actions thousands of years ago. Kids forced to live in tents in the Texas desert must be where the rubber truly hits the road for the Jewish community.
Rabbi Josh Whinston is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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