Rabbi Linda's Weekly Message

July 12, 2018
29 Tamuz 5778

At the end of the Book of Numbers this week, the Israelites make final preparations to enter the Promised Land. As with any big transitions, the imminence of change brings an attention to last minute details. Though they agree to help their fellow Israelites secure the land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad (as well as the half tribe of Manasseh) elect to remain on the east side of the Jordan because the land there is good for ranching. The inheritance details for the daughters of a man with no sons are finalized. And in Mattot/Ma’asei, God gives specific directions for the establishment of cities of refuge.

Those who had committed manslaughter could go to one of the six cities of refuge to escape retribution from the families of the deceased. The establishment of these cities took an explicit acknowledgment of the danger posed by misplaced fear and hatred. They were also an intervention to stop a potential escalation of violence.

The harm done and grief caused by these accidental killings was indeed great. There is no way to make restitution for life lost. As our Hebrew School kids know well, Judaism sees each life as an entire world of possibilities and potential offspring.

Mayor DeBlasio recently confirmed that 239 migrant children separated from their parents at our southern border have come through Cayuga Centers, a social service agency in Harlem that places them in temporary foster homes and runs day programs for them. We know from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. that many other children are being helped by similar agencies in the Bronx.  Most of these children are from Guatemala, a country where, 22 years after the formal end of the decades-long civil war, indigenous Mayans continue to be targets of discrimination, violence, and worse. Their parents are asylum seekers, fleeing to America for safety and refuge. Of course, the basic services of hygiene, physical health care, therapy, and educated training provided by these New York agencies are not restitution for the trauma of family separation. They do begin to give children the human dignity lacking in ICE detention centers. Workers at these agencies are trying to reunite children with parents, but the federal government refuses to grant access to the location of these parents or divulge their circumstances.

Cities of refuge in the Torah provided a solution for people who did unintentional harm to live peacefully with dignity. If people who cause harm inadvertently deserve peaceful whole lives, these children and their families who have not caused any harm, deserve peaceful and dignified refuge all the more. We must speak out against the misplaced hatred and fear that prevents them from accessing refuge.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jay Stanton, Rabbinic Intern