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Restitution, Legislation and Faith in God: Orlando and Beyond

How does one make a wrong, a right? How do you heal and seal a wound? How do we restore the faith of those we have hurt? In society? In civilization? 

To see your friends and family gunned down-in the midst of what felt like joy and peace and civility? That is a deep wound. It is the deepest wound for those who presumed themselves somewhat "safe" when they went out that night. For anyone who goes out not feeling 100 percent safe. And it is a wound to our society for allowing such savagery. What is happening to our civilization? What is this? 

We now know. We are far from civilized. We allow our sins to walk the streets unabashed. Trans men and women whose heads are still bashed in to this day and yet, we still do not even have basic laws to protect these members of our civilization? Loving souls line up, gay men, to donate blood and are turned away-for no rational reason. This lack of reason is a sign of the demise of our civilization. Who turns away the blood of a healthy person?

If we were truly civilized, queer people would not only feel safe but would know that society is going out of their way to protect them because they are targeted by people who behave in savage ways.  

Torah provides us with a framework for how to work towards being civilized. What does it mean to be civilized? It means trusting each other, having just as much faith in your fellow as you have in God--if you are a God person that is. For non-God people, it might mean putting your full faith in the possibility of humanity. Torah does not provide a picture of a fully civilized society but it provides us with enduring values to help establish one. And having faith in each soul, seeing the light of God in each person is what it means to have faith in God. 

In our parasha this week, Naso (Numbers  2:21-7:82), we receive the instruction to confess and make restitution for any sin, any breaking of faith, with a fellow human being, and therefore with God. There IS a path for turning a wrong into a right. 

My creative (but grounded in reality) translation of Number 5:5-8 is thus: 

And The Infinite One spoke to Moses saying, speak to the Israelites:
Any man or woman who does any wrong doing to anyone, that person has broken faith not only with that person, but also with God, and that person realizes their guilt, their breach of faith in their fellow human being, they should make a confession, make restitution and add one-fifth of that amount, specifically to the soul who was wronged, who was not given the benefit of faith.

This is what I understand about how to mend the breach--as transmitted to me from my sacred text, through my lens:

First you must acknowledge that not giving someone the benefit of the doubt, pre-judging others, not taking into account the full possibility of each soul, DISCRIMINATION is a sin. Discrimination against an individual is a sign of breaking faith with God or in more secular terms- breaking with being civilized, part of the collective trust. Discrimination is about not being willing to make another your equal and trust in them as an equal, not being willing or able to have faith in them, to include them and honor them. And this is considered a sin.

And we know it is a sin because it leads to horrors. To extermination and persecutions and self hatred and hatred of neighbor and family. We know this sin is the root of so many of our illnesses as a species.  

We know what happens when we do not just discriminate on an individual level but when we make it bigger and take it to a societal level. For example: Orlando. At the end of the day many sins of our society facilitated the murders in Orlando.  

We stand in solidarity with Orlando not only by identifying with them but also asking ourselves how we can make restitution? How can we show the LGBTQ community that we have faith in them? How to we aknowledge our sin and make a repair?  How can we prove, really show our work, to God and each other that we are working on becoming increasingly civilized? A society where we can feel confident the next generation of LGBTQ people can live in security and peace. 

We need to make restitution PLUS--this is what the Torah instructs us. How can we make restitution as a society? We can match every piece discriminatory anti-Trans legislation with legislation that ensures protection within the law for LGBTQ people. Let's start with the State of Florida. Or our workplace. Or our family. But legislation is really important. To make a point. That we want our laws to reflect our values: every soul is a refraction of the Divine. 

Rabbi Yotzhak Meir Alter of Ger taught on this portion:

Any breach of faith towards another is an offense against God, who commands justice and whose image is found in every human being... Every breach of faith is a form of theft. 

Restitution PLUS--in the form of equal protection under the laws of our civilization. That is the least we can do. 

May it be God's will that we recognize the breach, mend it and protect it, for the sake of future generations and in keeping with the highest values of our ancestors. 

Rabbi Kinberg


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