Ferguson, Staten Island and Vayishlach - Shabbat Sermon 12/6/14

There is a word in this morning's Torah portion which has dots over the letters. Those dots are found on that word in all printed editions of the Torah and in all Torah scrolls. Scholars can't agree why the dots are there, but they've been there for millenia. The rabbis, in their commentaries, explained the dots over the word - וישקהו - and he kissed him - in the following way. This word describes the dramatic reunion of Jacob and Esau. Jacob was anxious about meeting his twin and was unsure what kind of reception he would receive. As they met, the rabbis said that Esau went to bite Jacob's neck and in that moment Jacob's neck turned to stone and broke Esau's teeth. The rabbis always saw Esau as the personification of evil. Even in utero the rabbis suggest that Esau was an idol worshipper. As the grandfather of Amalek - Israel's arch enemy - Esau himself becomes the arch enemy of Israel. The Roman Empire is described by the rabbis as Esau as well.
These "midrashim" - interpretations - have been read and taught to Jewish children over the centuries so that when we read the Torah today we automatically think that Esau is evil. Despite the fact that the text says nothing of him worshiping idols Jewish tradition conveys the message of Esau's evil ways.
Fast forward now to current events today and we can see the devastating effect racial profiling can have on our lives. No matter the facts of the cases in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY we must admit that racial profiling played a significant role in the actions of the police officers. Though great strides have been made in racial equality in America, there is still deep seated feelings among whites about African Americans. This comes from the home, it comes from houses of worship, it comes from schools. Until there is true integration in all those settings there won't be true equality in our country.
However, we expect our authorities - law enforcement, legislatures, etc. - to pursue justice and we must do all we can to support and advocate such efforts. The book of Deuteronomy teaches - צדק צדק תרדוף - "justice, justice shall you pursue". Justice is supposed to be blind to wealth, status and race. May we see the day when that dream becomes a reality.