February 23, 2023
Dear Anonymous Stranger Who Called Me A Kapo This Time,
Thank you for inspiring me to write more today! It's never news that someone's wrong on the internet, and I know there isn't any merit in engaging with your note. But you've reminded me of some things that are worth saying about how I understand Torah; what I stand for; and why I think hiding behind an anonymous email account to send hate mail is such a spineless (and self-owning) move.
צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ
"Justice, justice shall you pursue, in order that you may live and inherit the land that Adonai your God is giving to you." (Deut. 16:20)
You claim to take issue with how I cite this verse -- often, though not always, quoting the first three words instead of both clauses. Granted, our sages often give us only the first few words of a citation (v'chulei / etc), but I don't think that's really what this is about. I think it's possible you just don't like my understanding of the verse. But maybe I haven't been clear, so let me try again.
Torah teaches that the way to really live (some translations say thrive) is to pursue justice and aim for it with all our might. Without justice, we won't inherit the land. This message found in Torah is echoed by a variety of our classical prophets: if we don't do what's right, the land will spit us out (and, it's implied, we'll deserve it -- because we're supposed to be pursuing and practicing justice.)
"Tzedek tzedk tirdof" applies no matter where we live. In every place where Jews make our homes, we're called to pursue justice, in order that we may live up to our end of the covenant we've made with God. Also because doing justice is what's right. Today this verse also speaks to me of the need for environmental justice, lest the planet become so inhospitable that none of us can survive.1
I'm getting off track. Dear sir -- I'm assuming you're a sir, based on past experience -- I do object to your emailing me photographs of desecrated Jewish bodies tumbled into mass graves.The memories of those souls, the memories of all six million, deserve better. You also included photographs of Hamas and Hitler, I think trying to imply that support for Palestinians' human rights makes me a Nazi?
I don't write much about Israel and Palestine these days. I don't feel that my voice adds anything to the conversation. I'd rather focus on co-creating liturgy with my Bayit hevre, reflecting on what might be helpful to others out of the grief journey of mourning my parents, and writing divrei Torah that speak to all whom I serve during these times of injustice, climate crisis, and rumbles of civil unrest.
But I do share my writing online under my real name, and my contact information is easy to find. Whether I'm writing about aspirations toward justice or the spiritual journey of burying a loved one, I attach my name to my words. (Which is why people like you can send hate mail calling me a kapo and accusing me of colluding with Nazis.) I notice your email to me is completely anonymous.
It seems that you don't want to be held accountable for your words. Apparently you want to be hateful without repercussions, which suggests perhaps some insecurity about the stance you're taking. But more than that, hiding behind anonymity to send hate mail reveals cowardice and a profound lack of dan l'chaf z'chut / giving the benefit of the doubt. Go do some mussar work, friend.
"When people show you who they are, believe them," as the saying goes. I don't know who you are, but your choice to send anonymous hate mail tells me a lot about who you've chosen to be. The best response I know is to speak more, write more, and stand up more for all who are marginalized. Thanks for reminding me to double down on becoming the justice-seeker I aspire to be.
Image from Mr. Bingo's "hate mail project," which pokes fun at the very notion of hate mail.
1. As Talmud reminds us, God's words are multivalent. Torah contains an infinity of meaning for us to unearth as we evolve and grow. Like my friend and teacher R. Mike Moskowitz teaches, our task is uncovering and discovering what was already there -- this applies whether we're talking about trans issues in Torah, or inviting Torah's wisdom to drive our work toward climate justice. (Relatedly, allow me to recommend R. Danya Ruttenberg's post Jews for Exegesis.) This is how we participate in revelation's continuing flow.↩