One evening last week, an East Asian looking student was walking home from a gym in Sheffield when a man standing in a doorway shouted at her, “Chinese bitch!” In fact, she was not Chinese and had never been to China, not that this should have mattered. Further afield, in the central Poltava region of Ukraine, protestors attacked buses carrying evacuees from China to a spa in order to be quarantined. Meanwhile, Canadian Chinese and other South Asians have expressed fears of growing anti-Asian sentiments and prejudice among the wider Canadian community. The aggressors in all these cases have clearly not read or heard the Ten Commandments, which appeared (two weeks ago) in the parsha of Yitro, for does it not say, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”? Or perhaps they have read this commandment. Perhaps they have read and heard it many times, but somehow it passed over them, like water off a duck’s back.
The commandment is expanded upon in the following parsha of Mishpatim: “Thou shalt not utter a false report; put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” In the same parsha, we are told twice not to oppress the stranger in our midst, which is what the outraged inhabitant of Sheffield did and what some Canadians are believed to be starting to do. In the case of Ukraine, the victims were not even strangers, though perhaps for the inhabitants of Poltava, they had somehow become strangers by living in a land far away.
Mishpatim is, as its name suggests, a collection of commands to act for justice and to do righteousness. The sudden change of subject to a blueprint for the building of the Sanctuary in this week’s parsha of T’rumah might, therefore at first sight, seem odd. For God to dwell among us however, as He declares He intends to do, the place where He will dwell needs to be special. It needs to be fit for holiness, but how can a holy place be in our midst if we ourselves are not dedicated to holiness? Indeed, it will be the way we act and the things we do which will determine whether the place will be holy or not. Our behaviour becomes the space and one of the worst ways we can desecrate that space is to bear false witness, to search for and hurl our rage against those we blame for our misfortunes. Don’t we know it!
This Saturday we have a special treat, for the service will be led jointly by Rabbi Maurice Michaels from Bournemouth and Murray Brown, currently commuting between Cornwall and London to his new job. We would like to have a more special kiddish lunch than normal, partly in honour of our guest, partly because two of our members will be getting married on the Saturday evening, namely Rachel Brown and Roger Chatfield. Please try, therefore, to bring something good to share.