Last week, Peggy Hubbard appeared on a video (you can see it on You Tube) excoriating the Black community in and around St. Louis Missouri as well as throughout the rest of this country for its audacity of taking up the mantra Black Lives Matter. Her timing could not have been better, in that with Rosh Hashanah less than two weeks away, I cannot help but feel that it would behoove many a rabbi in this country to address the following topic somewhere in the cycle of High Holy Day Sermons: Lives Matter.
As powerful as the Rosh Hashanah Torah portion is, where we read the story of the birth and sacrifice of Isaac, I cannot feel that the exchange between HaShem and Cain directly following the first fratricide would have served as a far better choice for Rosh Hashanah fare. Lesson Number One that ought to be derived from this fratricide fiasco is that humans have worth… Until they conduct themselves in such a fashion where they show themselves to be worthless, by being a boil on society that needs to be lanced. In that case, such miscreants should be separated from society; not incarcerated, but separated. If I’m not mistaken, Australia first began as a penal colony for British criminals. The vast majority of us have shown through our own conduct that we have worth. That’s why it makes perfect sense for us to ask HaShem to inscribe us in the Book of Life.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” is far more vulgar in my opinion than the worst of language used in any and all of today’s cinema. It insults my intelligence; it makes me very angry. “Am I my brother’s keeper” not only abdicates responsibility, but it shifts the blame elsewhere. At the risk of sounding pompous, had I been asked to co-author or ghost write the Ten Commandments, I would have replaced the “covet commandment” with “Thou shalt take responsibility”. Personal responsibility is what makes a society great. The greatest threat to any society as well as to one’s personal freedom for that matter is when personal responsibility is taken away and subsumed by a totalitarian government. And there’s only one thing worse than a government or a dictator that takes away personal responsibility. That’s when the individual abdicates such responsibility himself by showing he is either unable, incapable or simply too lazy to assume such responsibility.
Cain refused to take responsibility; Cain was an abject failure. Aside from ducking responsibility, Cain’s main concern was for his own safety. Not once did he express remorse; not once did he ask what could he do to ameliorate the position he put himself in. Because of his being so self-absorbed, Cain showed that the only life that mattered was his own; because of his being so self-absorbed, Cain showed that he was a taker and a user instead of a giver and a contributor. Takers and users believe that the only lives that matter are their own. Takers and users live just for themselves and that makes them not fit to live with. Takers and users value no one else and nothing else. Lives don’t matter to them…except their own.
Lives matter. That’s what Rosh Hashanah is all about; that’s what Judaism is all about. In addition to wishing each other a year of goodness and peace, let us also strive for a year where we recognize the worth of others as well as ourselves, where responsibility once again plays a central role in our lives, where we contribute to society instead of taking from society and using it for our own benefit. Let us show that Life Matters is not merely an empty, shameful