Enemies encircle our Torah portion, Ki Tetzei.
As Ki Tetzei begins, a Jewish warrior has taken a woman captive in war. To this day, one of the disturbing spoils of war is the captive woman, an easy mark for rape. How much the more so 2,500 years ago, in times we wish to believe were more barbaric than today. Yet 2,500 years ago, the Torah demanded that the captor warrior respect the captive woman; he may take her only as his wife. This disturbing scenario, resolved so decisively and compassionately, arises only in the face of enemies.
As the Torah portion concludes, more enemies abound. Amalek hounds the Jewish people as they journey through the wilderness. He attacks the weakest among the Israelite entourage. Amalek is second only to Pharaoh as our people’s relentless enemy in the Torah. The Torah enjoins us never to forget this enemy … us, as well as that generation in the wilderness.
The enemies encircling our Torah portion and the Torah’s exhortation for us never to forget beg the question. Who are the enemies encircling us? Us. Not Israel, albeit enemies still abound. Not Washington, albeit likewise. Us!
Last spring, Temple Emanuel began receiving faxes from the Westboro Baptist Church. Since then, the faxes have flowed weekly, sometimes several times a week, even several times a day. They spew hate. They espouse violence. Their targets are Jews and homosexuals, but not us alone. Their rhetoric is unsparing in its vileness. The faxes are more than just anti-Semitic, hate-filled screeds. They also give notice of rallies at different cities across the country, highlighted (low-lighted) by synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish institutions. According to the header of the faxes, the Church is located in Topeka, Kan., but its tentacles clearly reach across the country.
After receiving a month’s worth of faxes, I called the Mt. Lebanon police. I learned that Pittsburgh area police are well acquainted with Westboro because the Church organized demonstrations at the funerals of the three Pittsburgh policemen who were gunned down last spring when they responded to a domestic disturbance call. The demonstrators’ placards conveyed sentiments along the lines that the policemen had gotten their just desserts. When the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association met in June, I showed my colleagues some of the faxes, and asked if their congregations were also recipients. I learned that Temple Emanuel may well be unique. I conferred with Jeffrey Cohan, director of the Community and Public Affairs Council of the United Jewish Federation, who offered his assistance and asked that I keep him apprised.
What should I make of these faxes? I must suspect that these faxes are being sent to Temple Emanuel for a specific reason: One day, we will receive a fax notifying us that the Westboro Baptist Church has scheduled a demonstration at Temple Emanuel of South Hills. With enemies encircling our Torah portion, the Torah enjoins me to notify you that such a demonstration may be looming. The Torah portion then asks you to join me, if needed, in a counterdemonstration, peaceful and well organized, as has been done at other synagogues, in the spirit of never forgetting the enemies of the Jewish people. The Torah portion puts us on notice that the children of Amalek still live. They say that we are going to hell. Let us show them that the only hell that exists is the hell of the hate in their hearts.
The truth and timelessness of Torah shine forth every day. Such is the gift of Torah that its truth and timelessness are brightest when the times are darkest.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)