Thanks to Arlene from Israel I learned about a certain rabbi's sermon that was given in Atlanta, Georgia, which really hit the mark as far as recognizing that "giant elephant in the room" to which no one ever refers.
The Rabbi is Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim, and he gave this powerful sermon for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. I am excerpting portions here, but you absolutely must read it in its entirety which you can do by going to the synagogue's website (click on the link above).
The Rabbi (as any good rabbi would do) begins his sermon with a story. This, however, is a disturbing story which serves to illustrate his point: that the world is topsy-turvy, that black is white and white is black, that good is thought of as evil and evil, good.
Many years ago a Chassid used to travel from shtetl to shtetl selling holy books. On one occasion he came to a wealthy land owner and asked if he would like to purchase a book of Torah teachings. The banker agreed and not only purchased the book, but paid for it with a hundred ruble note. He then began to chat with the Chassid and offered him a cigar, taking one also for himself. The Chassid noticed that the banker proceeded torip a page from the holy book he had just bought and holding it to the open flame on the stove, used the page to light his cigar. The Chassid said not a word but simply drew out from his pocket the 100 ruble note he had just received from the banker, held it over the stove as well and used it to light his cigar.
This simple, little tale reflects a profound divergence of values. Our sympathy clearly and instinctively is not with the banker but with the pious Chassid. None of us would come to the defense of the banker. None of us would claim moral supremacy for the banker. None of us would justify his boorish deed. As the sages of the Talmud would say – “Pshita – It is so obvious.” Sadly though our planet is immersed in perversity where morality is not so manifest – where the book burner is a hero and the pious one, a villain.
I thought long and I thought hard on whether to deliver the sermon I am about to share. We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to gobble up our brisket, our honey cakes and our kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred – but not too much. We want to be guiltschlepped – but not too much. We want to be provoked but not too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.
I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling obligation, a responsibility to articulate what is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be heard. And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say but by what is painful to express. I am guided not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am guided not by delicacy but by urgency.
We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn’t know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn’t refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn’t call the Gestapo, militants. We didn’t see the attacks on our Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did not justify the Nazis rise to power as our fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people.
Rabbi Lewis contrasted our attitude towards the enemy during World War II with our fearfulness in even naming the enemy in the present conflicts with the Muslims--which they themselves started with aggressive attacks on the West:We did not apologize for Dresden, nor for The Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein, nor for D-Day. Evil – ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity and an exquisite understanding of what was at stake. It was not just the Sudetenland, not just Tubruk, not just Vienna, not just Casablanca. It was the entire planet. Read history and be shocked at how frighteningly close Hitler came to creating a Pax Germana on every continent.
"...In WWII we won because we got it. We understood who the enemy was and we knew that the end had to be unconditional and absolute. We did not stumble around worrying about offending the Nazis. We did not measure every word so as not to upset our foe. We built planes and tanks and battleships and went to war to win….. to rid the world of malevolence.As I said, read the whole article, and see how at least one man has the courage to 'tell it like it is,' without concern for political correctness or personal popularity among his congregants. It only takes one brave individual to make a sea-change, and by doing so, possibly change the world. Hopefully, before it's too late. . .
"We are at war… yet too many stubbornly and foolishly don’t put the pieces together and refuse to identify the evil doers. We are circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.