Parashat Vayikra, is packed with descriptions of the many different sacrifices that the Israelites were to offer at the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, that they had just completed building. Commenting on one of these sacrifices, the sin offering, our Sages have noted that this particular offering was to be brought to the Tabernacle when an Israelite had inadvertently transgressed a negative commandment — one of the many “thou shall not’s” that fill our Torah text.
I believe that one of the most important negative commandments is lo taamod al dam r éakha — do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I also believe that many of us, either out of ignorance or out of a sense of helplessness, are transgressing this commandment today with regard to the genocide that is being committed in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Commenting on the commandment of lo taamod al dam r éakha, Elie Weisel teaches: “The word is not “akhikha,” your Jewish brother, but r éakha, your fellow human being, be he or she Jewish or not. All are entitled to live with dignity and hope. All are entitled to live without fear and pain. Not to assist Sudan’s victims today would for me be unworthy of what I have learned from my teachers, my ancestors and my friends, namely that God alone is alone: [God’s] creatures must not be.” (from a speech delivered at the Darfur Emergency Conference, July 2004)
We cannot stand idly by the blood of our brothers and sisters in the Sudan because, above all else, ours is a tradition that teaches us to sanctify the life of every human being. And we cannot stand idly by because we know what it feels like to suffer at the hands of oppressors while the world pretends not to notice.
We know how it feels to cry out, only to be answered by a deafening silence. As a community, we must speak out about Darfur. If we don’t, then we will have failed in a way for which no sin offering can atone.
Please contact the JCRC and your individual congregations and find out what you can do to help stop genocide in Darfur.
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Congregation Shaare Emeth provides this week’s Torah Portion.