By Rabbi Josh Blass

Typically, we find ourselves in our own modified 24-hour news cycle. Events in the world transpire, which by turn elate, horrify or concern us, and after a few days of hand-wringing or celebrating we quickly move on to whatever awaits us next.
While the events in Charlottesville are by now some three weeks old, I still find myself either unable or undesirous of “moving on.” Part of that is for obvious reasons; hearing the words “Jews will not replace us” shouted lustfully by men adorned with swastikas leaves a strong impression, especially on someone of Eastern European descent. Beyond that, part of the continued ruminating might be related to my general feeling that we, as the broader Orthodox community, don’t care enough about national issues of racism and prejudice. We’re happy within our own bubble and with our own concerns, and the sounds from the street don’t always, nor should they always, reach our own consciousness. Worse yet is my growing feeling that racism is not far from our own shores as a community, and that the racial tensions in this country and the emergence of overtly anti-Semitic organizations such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa has only increased some of those sentiments.
Why, in fact, should we care about any of this? The events that transpired concern fringe elements in American society and exist in a world a thousand miles away from here. While all of that is true, allow me to share a few reflections about why these events, and why combating racism, do in fact matter. There is much to be said on the matter, but let me limit myself to three specific areas that seem related to this discussion.
1) Lashon Hara: While the specifics of lashon hara about non-Jews is beyond the scope of this column, I find it interesting that the Chafetz Chaim records that lashon hara against a group is far worse than lashon hara against a specific person. While the Chafetz Chaim doesn’t explain his rationale, it would seem logical that lashon hara against a group reflects something coarse about the person speaking. Relating information about a specific person that might be true is clearly wrong and is a severe issur, but it’s not as repulsive as a general attack on an entire people. Blacks are X, Hispanics are Y, the non-Jews think that, Chassidim do this, the chareidim do that, Modern Orthodox are this, and so on—these are all ways of speaking that are not only often untrue and hurtful to building a respectful climate, but simply reflect a coarseness and lack of refinement that should indeed be the hallmark of Klal Yisrael.
2) While it may be trite, how often are we cognizant of the basic G-dliness of all of mankind? When the Gemara records the opinion that the most important principle of the Torah is that G-d created all of man in His image, that wasn’t only referring to Jews. That sensitivity and respect for all of mankind is further highlighted in the mishnah in Avos (3:18), which records, “Chaviv adam shenivra b’tzelem”—how beloved is man, who was created in the image of G-d. The Seforno and others point out that this is a universal statement. When people in Houston have lost everything this week, is there enough of a response from the frum community that reflects this universal spirit? Denigrating other people and cultures or a basic lack of sensitivity toward the struggles of other cultures and races would seem to have no place in a worldview that champions the basic sanctity of all men. While in no way should we ever be ashamed to think of ourselves as the am kadosh and am segulah, recognition of who we are as that am should only increase our sense of respect for and responsibility toward the rest of the world.
3) While nazism, anti – semitism and racism can never be tolerated, some of what the alternative right is fighting for are causes that many of us would agree with. The radical liberalization of this country is absolutely horrifying for anyone whose sensibilities are grounded in the Torah. The lack of free speech, unless your speech conforms to the national prevailing cultural sentiment, is an equally horrifying reality. With that said, there can be no message that’s heard if the messenger is coarse and ugly. The message then becomes a reflection of the ugliness and is distorted by the ugliness of the one who is delivering it instead of something that can be heard on its own merits. The two times that Moshe Rabbeinu got angry at Klal Yisrael (Bamidbar 20:10 and 31:14), his leadership was either removed or diminished because through that anger he lost the effectiveness to lead effectively.
The Torah in Parshas Re’eh connects us being banim laMakom—children of G-d—to how we respond to tragedy, in that we don’t cut ourselves when we are in mourning. The point seems clear—our greatness as a nation is related to how we conduct ourselves specifically during those moments when anger and a lack of self-control could reasonably be the order of the day. How we speak to our spouses, how we discipline our children, deal with coworkers and employees, and generally conduct ourselves in tense moments is the true measure of man. The alt-right, with all of their talk of Jewish Communists and worse, lose all ability to be meaningfully heard in the public arena because the messenger and the message is so fundamentally ugly.
Let us continue to be people who, through removing ourselves from even a whiff of lashon hara, through acknowledging the greatness of all people and working toward their welfare, and through our calm and respectful demeanor, can continue to spread the light of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Torah throughout the many dark corners of the world.

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