- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

The following are excerpts from a Sabbath sermon given Friday by Rabbi Brett R. Isserow at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria.
Our Torah portion today [Leviticus 8:1-13] is about Moses and the offerings made to God. We are told what kinds of sacrifices these are, what they satisfy and who can eat them afterward. There is a great amount of detail, but it generally concerns "sin offerings" of one kind or another.
Each sacrifice seems to hold within itself a kind of holiness. In some way or other, the sacrifice transfers its power to objects it makes contact with. If it touches a jar, the jar must be taken out and broken. If the offering touches a metal container, it must be washed and purified before it is used again. And if the sacrifice comes in contact with your cloths, they must be washed in a holy place before they are worn again.
So this holiness of the sacrifice seems to be communicable in some way. Tomorrow, which is one of four Sabbaths leading to Passover, we will read about another kind of sacrifice [Numbers 19:1-22]. Here, an unblemished red heifer is burnt entirely into ashes. Those ashes are then used as a purifying agent for anybody contaminated by contact with the animal.
The priest who sacrifices the heifer becomes impure and must leave the settlement for a period of time. He must go through a washing ritual before he becomes pure again. So the heifer, which in some way is an agent of purification, at the same time transfers to those who touch it a kind of impurity.
Do you see the odd contrast in these two Torah portions? In the first, we have a sacrifice that communicates holiness to what it touches. In the second, the sacrifice transfers impurity.
At the moment, we face a similar paradox between those who support the war in Iraq and those who speak out against the war. It can appear that, for some reason or other, if you don't support the president entirely, and you don't support the House and Senate entirely, then you are unpatriotic.
Somehow or other the holiness of the president has communicated itself to the individuals involved on his side, and they have become holier than his opponents. And those who criticize the war somehow or other become impure. Somehow or other, they become unpatriotic.
But let's remind ourselves of what our loyalty means. President Theodore Roosevelt, for example, told us in 1918 that "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
We indeed have a role to speak against something we see as morally wrong. And yes, I believe we can question the judgment of our leaders. In some case they give us very good reason to do so. The resolution from Congress gave the president a blank check to do whatever he likes, and that undermines the checks and balances intrinsic to our system.
If find it interesting at how, in the fervor of the moment, those who criticize "tax and spend policy" are now trying to spend greatly while getting tax cuts as well. Something seems illogical in that change of policy. And yet, if you question the government and say it is wrong, you are deemed unpatriotic.
We ought to be very careful about telling people what they can and cannot say. Many Americans are concerned that, during a time of war, disagreement with the president is not the way to advance. But what on earth are we doing in Iraq if it's not to bring some form of democracy to a country where criticism of government results in death?
We Jews have a long, long tradition of opposing the ultimate commander in chief. Of expressing our hurts, our anger and our disagreement with God when we think God has acted unjustly. How can we be silent, or do any less, with our fellow man?
Next week: a sermon at a Maryland church



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