In this week's Torah portion, Shemini, Aaron's sons Nadav and Abihu give an offering of "strange fire" to God, Who didn't ask for and doesn't particularly want it. So, as their father sits in silence, God kills Nadav and Abihu. Why doesn't Aaron protest, or even cry? Volumes have been written on the topic; maybe he was mute in awe, or in acquiescence of punishment for his role in the Golden Calf affair. What we do know, said the rabbi yesterday morning at services, is that silence can be good--a way of expressing honor, deference, glory--but also a way to hide, an act of cowardice. This, he suggested, is the silence of the American people and government with respect to the atrocities in Darfur. Jews in particular, on this eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, have no excuse for keeping quiet about what's going on.
I'm not very political, about which I'm not proud. My opinions are sometimes the knee-jerk, self-serving responses borne of a long line of New York, liberal ancestry. So I'm glad the rabbis at my synagogue shamed me into action; I would not be going to the rally in Washington, DC next Sunday if they hadn't made me feel guilty, rightfully so, in their comments from the bimah week after week. Lack of response to this abomination has nothing to do with political or religious affiliation--no moral ambiguity here about which side is right and which wrong--and everything to do with laziness and xenophobia. But our own freedom and family members are not affected, we might counter. And this country has so many other problems; why bother with someone else's? Because we, 6 million of us, were once in those same shoes.
I long ago lost faith that my government listens to anything I say; making the decision to go to this rally was not easy. But if I give up, if I stop trying to speak, I am surrendering my rights as an American. Maybe I haven't been loud enough. Maybe this time will be different. I thought about silence, and how I need to express my own music in order to stay alive as a spiritual being. The 400,000 murdered in Darfur have no voice. It is our responsibility to cry out in their behalf, and do everything possible to prevent history from repeating itself.
I wish the media would be as concerned with Darfur as with who's winning on "American Idol." I wish more people and organizations would be as committed to helping as the synagogues of the Upper West Side, who have banded together across denominations to send a dozen busloads of people to DC. More information can be found here about how to get to Washington on Sunday, April 30 for the rally.
If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?--Hillel, Pirkei Avot