Friday, August 9, 2013

The Egla Arufa and the power of a Hello

I once had a case of an Egla Arufa (the beheaded heifer symbolizing an unidentified and mysterious death in the community).

As rabbi in Vancouver we heard of a dead Jewish body on the outskirts of the town, lying in a freezer in a city morgue. True it was not exactly as the Torah dictated, "A body lying on the ground and it is unknown who had smitten him", but it was close enough--it was OUR city and this homeless, downtrodden Jew died alone and waited for weeks until we were informed and quickly rustled up a quorum to bury him respectfully.

"The elders and judges of the city went out [to investigate the nature of this tragedy]. Our hands have not shed this blood, our eyes have not seen."

Didn't they? Were we truly vindicated? Yes, we were busy tending to our communities and spreading Torah and Judaism throughout; and yes, we knew of many non-members in hospitals and at city centers and tried our best to cater to them as well.

But this time, we blew it.

"We did not go out to the streets of downtown Vancouver ans scream Shema Yisrael, nor did we grab our guitar in the spirit of Reb Shlomo and sing Am Yisrael Chai, hoping for a response. We inadvertently, unintentionally, spilled this blood".

Those were the words I used when I gave the hesped (eulogy) on a rainy winter day in Vancouver in front of the Shamash and the two other Orthodox rabbis in the city.

That sad, lonely funeral affected us in the city, sensitized us a bit more to the suffering of the silent, attuned our ears to the sorrow of the unknown, disconnected Jews in Vancouver. That incident heightened our awareness of any visitor in our city and our great responsibility to welcome them, host them and ultimately "escort them out of our city in good spirits".

Every Jewish community must bear the sign of the beheaded heifer on their conscience. Every Synagogue, JCC, and private home should silently pray--

"Our hands have not shed blood, our eyes have not seen, YET, forgive your people Israel and let not innocent blood be spilled among Your nation." Hopefully we will be able to do our part in fulfilling this Biblical command "You shall eradicate innocent blood from your midst when you act justly in the eyes of God".