May 28, 2021
In this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotekha, we read of Miriam’s punishment by Gd for speaking ill of her brother, Moses. Our scholars have varying interpretations of the intentions of Miriam’s actions, as well as what she was trying to achieve through her criticism of Moses. However, no matter what we think of the reasons behind Miriam’s intent, we learn one clear lesson, that no one, not even Moses’ sister, is exempt from being held accountable for their speech.
There is a story that has been passed down for many generations about the village gossip, which shares the message of lashon hara (“evil speech”) better than I could ever give it justice myself.
The village gossip repeated a story about a neighbor. Within a few days, everyone in the community knew the story. The person being talked about heard what had been said and was sad, angry, and in pain. Later, the gossip who had spread the story learned that what was shared was in fact not true. Seeking guidance, the gossip went to the local rabbi and asked what could be done to repair the damage.
After reflecting on the situation, the rabbi said to the gossip, “Go home and bring me one of your feather pillows.” Surprised by the rabbi’s response, the gossip speedily followed his advice and went home to get a feather pillow to bring to the rabbi.
“Now,” said the rabbi, “go outside open the pillow and pull out all the feathers.” Although confused, the gossip followed the rabbi’s directions.
After a few minutes, the rabbi went outside to join the gossip and to share the second part of the task, “Now, I want you to find every one of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.”
“That’s impossible,” cried the gossip. “The wind has scattered them everywhere. I can’t possibly collect them all!”
“Yes,” said the rabbi. “And that is what happens when you gossip or tell a story about someone else. Once the words fly from one person’s mouth to another, just like these feathers flew in the wind. Once you say them, you can never take them back.”
If there were a sequel to this story, I believe that it would highlight what the community could (and maybe should) do to try and collect the feathers to try and right the original wrong. My personal struggle with this story is that although the gossip has learned the lesson, the victim still remains in pain.
Unfortunately, the feathers of antisemitism have been flowing in the winds of time for thousands of years. Bigots, haters, racists, and gossips have continued to spread these false narratives for generations. Yes, as the story so movingly shared, maybe it is impossible for any one of us to collect every feather out there. However, I refuse to believe that if we came across a feather that we would not actively do everything in our power to pick it up.
Yesterday was a day designated as a call to action to #ActAgainstAntisemitism. It was a day designated to go out and challenge every person to find a feather perpetuating antisemitism and remove it from circulation.
According to the ADL, “[W]e are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate.” This week the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and its JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) released a statement calling out the abhorrent rise of antisemitic acts across the globe. Additionally, yesterday there was a Day of Action Against Antisemitism, calling on Jews and non-Jews, to go out and collect these proverbial antisemitic feathers and remove them from circulation. (If you were unable to join the virtual rally the recording is available to view online.)
These are difficult times. We are coming out of a year of social distancing, during a time of tremendous partisanship, in an era of incredible stress on our mental health, physical well-being, and emotional connectivity. Unfortunately, these are the times when people can be easily manipulated to believe lies that blame someone (or some group) for their suffering and pain. These are the times when the age-old antisemitic tropes and stereotypes gain traction. These are the times when the Jewish community is most vulnerable.
If you are the victim of an antisemitic act, or you know of antisemitism taking place in our community, please reach out to us as soon as possible. Thankfully the Jewish Federation has developed strong relationships with our local law enforcement departments so that they can help us help you because the Jewish Federation is…