Ironically, Pharaoh’s initial agreement to allow the Hebrews to go into the desert to perform their prayers and sacrifices in the aftermath of the plague of locusts stands in contrast to other despots in Jewish history who deny the Jews that opportunity of worship. Though Pharaoh changes his mind, his original thought to permit this action on the part of the Israelites is reflective of his understanding that it is in the nature of man to wish to reach out to a deity.
On the other hand, the denial of freedom of worship is devastating to the Soviet Jews in the 20th Century, and the Communist experiment in Russia is almost successful in obliterating any religious connections the Jews may have. Thankfully, that attempt is not successful, although a large percentage of Soviet Jews assimilate and are lost to the Jewish community.
But denial deteriorates into terror when individuals take on themselves the task to harm those who engage in worship. We as a Jewish community are more than aware of numerous attempts to destroy synagogues such as during Krystallnacht, and the murder of Jews at worship, be it in a synagogue in Turkey or a shul in Har Nof in Jerusalem. On the other hand, other faith communities have suffered equally, noting the recent tragic events at a mosque in Quebec City, and the attack on bible students at a Charleston, South Carolina church. Terrorism and hate go hand in hand, and they are not discriminatory. Terror and hate attack all decent people, regardless of race or creed.
There is no question that what transpired a few days ago in Quebec City was horrible and tragic. All decent people must condemn what happened there and elsewhere. At the same time, sadly, I do not remember a similar outcry and vigil for the victims of the Har Nof massacre a few short years ago, victims who were known personally by members of our community. When 34 Jews were killed in a synagogue massacre some years ago in Turkey, there was no huge hue and cry by the world community about what happened there.
Regardless, we as Jews must take the high road, and not allow transgressions by an indifferent world community dim our vision and clear determination to condemn evil from whatever source. Just as we have a responsibility to condemn violations and abuses of human rights, because we suffered as slaves in Egypt, we are obligated as members of the world community to mourn the loss of innocent lives snuffed out by terrorists in churches, mosques or in other locales.
We dare not be parochial in our focus on what is happening in the world around us. We are given the mission enunciated by Isaiah to be a “light unto the nations.” We can only be that light if our feelings of solidarity with others in times of crisis are enunciated clearly and unequivocally.