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Carrying the Torah of Hillel

Seven weeks ago, we joined together to tell the Passover story, recounting the oppression of our ancestors in Egypt, and the freedom they gained when they crossed into the desert with Moses. This week, we mark the ancient harvest festival of Shavuot by celebrating the gift of Torah we received at Mount Sinai. Last night, all around the world, Jews gathered to embrace the teachings of Torah, seeking inspiration by the wisdom of our tradition.

In Talmud, we read a story about a person who wanted to learn the entire Torah very quickly in order to convert to Judaism. This person went before the great Sage Shammai and said to him: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai, unwilling to even consider the preposterous request, sent the person away without any response. So this person decided to visit another great Sage, Hillel, and ask the same question. Hillel converted this person and said: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and learn it.

That which is hateful to you, do not do to another - That is the entire Torah. This teaching from Hillel echoes in my thoughts as I scroll through my social media reading the stories and watching the videos of Black Americans being chased, beaten, and killed for reasons that are incomprehensible.

There is no excuse for the racism that has continued throughout our country's history. Racism has been perpetuated in our education systems, in workplaces, in houses of worship, in government, in policing, and in every other facet of society we can imagine. People of color are pushed down by the systems of this nation in a way that I can not begin to understand.

As a white woman, my existence has never been questioned. I have gone running in many neighborhoods, and no one has ever stopped me to ask if I belonged. The history of people who look like me was taught in my public school. I can wear a hoodie, and carry a cellphone, and no one will see me as a threat. My skin has provided me a life of access and privilege that I am just beginning to understand. Yet, Judaism has taught me that all human beings are equal. The rich and the poor, people of all faiths, people of all nationalities. We are all people. We are all created in the image of God. That which is hateful to you, do not do to another - That is the entire Torah.

Earlier this week, George Floyd, died after three Minneapolis police officers held him down with their bodies in the street as he repeated over and over, “I can’t breathe.” Another officer stood by and did nothing to stop it.

Firing these four corrupt officers does not feel like justice. To be honest, I am not sure that life in prison for the four would feel like justice.

For people of color, justice has existed in a reactionary state for far too long. Change is only occurring when tragedy strikes, and only in the cities where the tragedy takes place. It is time for cities and states to learn from each other's actions. We must not wait for another life to be taken, another human being's right to exist - overlooked.

This morning, Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen, of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, live streamed the destruction that took place in her neighborhood last night. Standing in front of her church at the end of the video she shares a powerful reminder. “The violence and destruction that Minneapolis has experienced the last two nights are but symptoms of generations of inequality.”

Hillel teaches that the entire Torah is based on the basic principle that humans should treat each other the way they themselves wish to be treated. This year as we mark Shavuot, may we carry with us the Torah of Hillel, and remember to treat our neighbors of color the way we would want to be treated, by using our voices and our votes to combat racism and violence.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

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