Let Humanity Go – Va’era 2015

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 12 February 2015

What is the purpose of a vest?  In a cold winter it can keep you warm without wearing lots of bulky clothing.  In a hot summer it can be your last garment to keep you looking decent but cool. If David Eagleman manages to raise enough funding to take it past prototype stage, he intends that the purpose of a vest will be to enable the deaf to hear and the canniest of stock market traders to anticipate the market and make pots of money.

This is how he plans to do it.  For David Eagleman Vest stands for Versatile Extra Sensory Transducer and from the outside it looks like a normal item of clothing.  Inside the lightly padded Eagleman Vest there are a large number of vibrating pads energised in the same way in which a mobile phone vibrates.  Eagleman’s vest is then attached wirelessly to a mobile phone with processing power.  In the case of the Vest to help you hear the phone microphone would pick up sounds and then turn them into vibrations of the vest which in trials have enabled the deaf to have a sense which can be as effectively translated by the brain into hearing as a far more expensive cochlear implant.< For a stock market trader the idea is that financial data would be transmitted from the mobile phone and translated into vibration patterns in the vest which would enable the stock exchange floor trader to literally feel the changing fortunes of the companies or areas he is investing in and act that little bit faster than the trader next to him.   By having a deeper and more immediate perception of the flow of the market he would then be able to beat his neighbour to the best deals. Just what you perceive from the evidence in front of you is at the centre of the action in our Torah last Shabbat and this and next Shabbat.  Because Moses saw God in the bush that burned on Mount Sinai where he was pasturing his sheep last Shabbat, he became the leader of the Jewish people to take them out of slavery.  Because he saw the Egyptian task master beating the Israelite and took action whilst others had just gotten used to brutality in their midst Moses became the fighter for justice whom we emulate. At this beginning of this week’s portion God says that because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob perceived a sense of God when He appeared to them, their people, our people became the Israelites and related to God forever in a special covenantal way.  Pharaoh’s stubbornness in refusing to let the Israelites go as plague after plague attacks Israel is at the end of the portion because he just does not see that Egypt is lost unless he lets them go. Torah tells us that how you sense what is around you is a choice.   Over the past weeks it is choice that we have all been confronted with.  Are we going to see the attacks in Paris as part of a greater trend that makes us all under threat wherever we are?   Are we going to see them as the work of a whole people or of brutal murderers?  Are we going to see a trend of anti-Semitism though them?   We have a choice as to what we feel inside us as a result of what we see outside of us. If we let ourselves perceive fear all of the time we will paralyse ourselves as a community. We will stop educating our children for fear of them being together in Jewish community buildings.  We will hide our Judaism for fear that it is a dangerous identity.  We will refuse to engage with Israel for fear that caring about the Jewish state makes us targets.   Some would have us perceive this fear and allow the fear mongers a victory.  This week’s deeply flawed survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism was an example of creating fear by asking questions to which the only response was a fearful one and then reporting it as if it were the truth. If we perceive Islam through the lens of those who interpret jihad (the sense that a Muslim should engage in a personal spiritual struggle) as a licence to kill in the name of political domination then we will never know the humanity and deep spirituality of many Muslim people whose hatred of violence is just the same as ours. Earlier this week I spent three days at Windsor Castle studying with Imams, Rabbis, Priests, Educators and Community Leaders from the three faiths.  The Muslims who were a third of our group were there because they know that our perceptions of each other are not right.   We need to know each other much better in order to understand the challenges that we have in living without fear in British society.  The Imams and Muslim educators struggle as we do with the threat that murderers in the name of their faith do to a sense of safety and the building  of a society of which we can all be proud.  The Imams, of some of the largest mosques in Britain are dealing with a community that feels a small part of it is out of control and going beyond the reach of the mainstream with dire consequences for all.   Over those days we learned to see come of the challenges through each other’s eyes. With one Imam I shared his concern that the lack of a sense of being a community centre in mosques means that he does not get to know young people as they grow up, meaning that it is difficult to be with them when they struggle with outwardly attractive Islamicist ideology.  We spoke about how Synagogues have managed to build a strong sense of intergenerational community and to establish relationships between Rabbis and young adults to help their spiritual development starting from clubs and youth movements which mirror the ideology of the Synagogue itself.  With another Imam who told me that he had never spoken to a Jew before this week, we talked about Israel and why it matters to Jews, why our J-Socs at universities get so concerned about the speakers Islamic Societies invite, whilst he explained to me how some of those speakers are exactly the people who can help Muslim students who may be attracted by radicalism to avoid supporting a path of violence. This week too our Synagogue needed to deal with the fears that members of our community have of simply being here, of their children attending kindergarten or our Sunday morning classes, of whether the Jewish community is a safe place to be.  As always the perception of danger is way greater than the reality, especially in a community such as Alyth which works all the time with the Community Security Trust, follows their advice and invests in in its safety, both in terms of equipment and the hundreds of members of the Synagogue who give their time voluntarily to keep a watchful but welcoming eye around the building so that anything out of order can be reported to those who know how to deal with it.    The best and safest thing that we can do is to continue our community life in its normal thriving way sharing the responsibility of keeping our eyes open and minds ready to hear the advice of the real experts and as we always do, acting upon it. Our senses stimulate action.  Right now the action that we should be taking as a community leads from seeing that fear cannot rule us, hearing that there are partners for dialogue in the Muslim community around us in Britain, feeling that we are not in danger as long as we follow the advice that we are given and all put in our time to make our Jewish gatherings safe and secure. We can look and see nothing but fear or we can look and see possibility and potential for a better future.  Then we can continue being proudly Jewish with confidence, enabling our communities to thrive together in Britain with and not in opposition to Muslim communities, refusing to let fear hold us back.    As Moses conquered his fears to demand that Pharaoh “let’s my people go” we can demand with the three million who marched in Paris last week that the oppressive bullies of our time, these murderers, those who would be task masters over us, let humanity go.