The other week, Karen and Mike, known to some of us as Vice President and Mrs. Pence were in Israel. During their relatively brief stay, they visited Yad VaShem, Israel’s memorial to the six million whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their henchmen. It was there in front of the eternal flame, that Mr. Pence inflamed more than a few of our people. While paying his respects to the six million, he remarked: “…three years after walking beneath the shadow of death (they) rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future.” Faster than you could say “shalom aleichem” Mr. Pence was being excoriated for introducing Christian terminology into his metaphor.
Is it such a sin to take Mr. Pence’s remarks at face value? Personally speaking, I’m amazed that the very same Jews who in all probability never heard of Rashi, much less have ever looked into even one of Rashi’s commentaries are so quick to offer commentary on the remarks of an American leader. I shudder to think how these same individuals would have reacted, had Mr. Pence remarked: “As a non-Israeli and a non-Jew, I cannot help but feel the holy spirit of the six million throughout this edifice that memorializes them.” Any number of Jewish and/or Israeli publications would have accused him of sullying the souls of the six million by invoking the trinity!
There is a disease rampant among our people. Unlike other diseases, it does not distinguish between Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews. That disease is ignorance. As a people, we are woefully ignorant of our tradition. Jews, who have no trouble providing the name of the mother of Jesus, are completely stumped when it comes to providing the name of the mother of Moses. Mention “resurrection” and immediately Jews associate it with an event that purportedly occurred three days after the crucifixion. Yet, the very same individuals do not realize that resurrection is a concept that it is profoundly Jewish. There is a discussion in the Talmud, not whether we Jews believe in resurrection – that ought to be a foregone conclusion- but whether the source for resurrection is biblical or rabbinic. Surprise! Surprise! Resurrection of the dead is found in our prayers minimally three times a day virtually every day of the year. Why then the uproar?
Last but not least, a big “al chet” (for the sin that I have committed- part of the Yom Kippur confessional) is in order on the part of all the accusers. For argument’s sake, suppose for a moment, that Mr. Pence did in fact have Jesus in mind. If so, then I caution his accusers to think carefully before they use phrases such as: “wash one’s hands of the matter”, “blind leading the blind”, and “go the extra mile” in their daily parlance. All three expressions come from the Book of Matthew! Why then is it kosher for the same Jews who take Mr. Pence to task for using a term that is inferred being connected with Jesus, to use phrases that are unmistakably Christian in origin in their everyday speech?
Within a short time period of his Yad VaShem visit, Mr. Pence addressed the Knesset. In addition to his adulatory remarks for the Jewish State, Mr. Pence invoked the following five words: “Shehechiyanu, V’kiyimanu, V’higiyanu lazaman hazeh” (who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this moment in time). Instead of a slap in the face for a questionable reference at best, perhaps Mr. Pence deserves a slap on the back for his successful and some would dare say beautiful gesture of quoting a Hebrew prayer in its original.