I agree with the Grand Dragon 100%...I think we should hang this man...And while we're at it, I think you should hang me too....Because I don't want to live in a world where fear and hate hide behind a call for justice. Where men, women and children, born as free as you and me, are denied, among other things, the right to vote. And if they try to do anything about it, you hang 'em or you blow 'em up in a church. They're so proud of what they're doin', these dispensers of justice, that they have to hide behind masks to do it...
This is not justice. This is merely a desperate attempt to hang on to the past - a shameful past that can never and should never be restored. So go ahead. You hang us now. But you cannot stop the future, because you cannot kill everyone who was here tonight, and they will never forget what they saw.
It is only then that the Grand Dragon steps forward, and orders the ropes for Nathaniel and Sam to be taken down, sparing their lives, and recognizing that there might be another way, a way beyond senseless hatred, and needless death.
Watching the media coverage this week of the gruesome beheading of journalist James Foley in Syria, with Foley dressed in an orange jumpsuit, forced to kneel beside an ISIS jihadist, dressed all in black, his face completely covered save for his eyes, brought to mind this episode from television some twenty-odd years ago. But while television drama offers us a release through fiction, there is nothing fictitious about an ISIS jihadist, the dispenser of "justice," so proud of what he is doing, hiding behind a mask doing it. There is no escape from these horrific and frightening images. What we are seeing, what we are confronted by is not fiction -- it is real.
Earlier this week, writing about the rising acts of anti-Semitism, and pro-ISIS demonstrations throughout Europe and other parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand, Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University commented, "Instead of explaining away these actions, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where these events have occurred should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to."
So sorry to ruin your Friday evening. We come to our sanctuary in search of comfort, but in reality, I would venture to say, that most of us are shaken to our core by what we see and what we hear, and rightfully so. What we are seeing is disgusting, despicable hubris. That any person, that any group of people, can think that they hold absolute truth in their hands, and can kill someone because they are different, or they think differently is utterly barbaric and must be condemned.
So what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about our faceless, shrouded enemy, who not only wants to kill us, but to annihilate our very way of life? This is not just a fight against a faceless, murderous, extremist, terrorist regime dressed in black; it is not just a fight that will end with bombs and missiles and invasions. This is a fight for all that we hold dear - a fight to show that one can live a perfectly meaningful life sharing in the blessings of both secular and religious existence, a fight for the grey and every other shade of life that exists somewhere between the black and the white boundaries of fundamentalism and extremism.
Most of us come to this synagogue because we appreciate that Judaism is colourful, that there is room for discussion and debate, that there is space to grow - that we are not limited by a singular form of Jewish expression. If we are to emerge victorious in this titanic struggle, we will need to show the power and the beauty, the love, good will and hope, the nuance and the difference and the shades of variety that exist in all of our lives. If we are not willing to defend what we cherish, if we are not willing to speak up and speak out, to let the difference in our voices be heard, no one else will speak up for us.
The tension of "black-and-white" is one that has resonated throughout Jewish text and the Jewish community for generations. Just this week, we read in Parashat Re'eh, "See I present before you today a blessing and a curse." The blessing is considered a path of life, and a path of following God's commandments. The curse is considered what happens if one does not heed the commandments of God and turns astray.
Commentators in Jewish tradition, as they are wont to do, share different perspectives and different interpretations. There is nuance in Jewish tradition, if only we would look closely enough to find it. Some commentators, like Sforno in the 16th century, offer no middle ground. Sforno warns us, "Look and perceive that your affairs as a people are not of an intermediate nature." He then goes on to say that the blessing and the curse are, in fact, two "extremes."
But Nachmanides in the 14th century and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in the 19th century soften the blow. Nachmanides takes the language of the text and creatively reimagines the words suggesting that we should instead read, "Today I am giving to you a way for blessing and a way for curse." Hirsch offers, "Whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed on us, but on how we deal with them...that we ourselves, by our own moral conduct, can decide which of the two will symbolise our own future."
Both Nachmanides and Hirsch suggest that there are individual and communal choices to be made. After all, whose path in life is exactly similar to that of the person next to them? Nachmanides and Hirsch emphasize that the "blessing" and the "curse" emphasize ways, not the only ways, to achieve blessing or curse, and that the choices, ultimately, rest in our hands.
So how will we respond to the horrors that rest before us? Lipstadt has commented that what we are seeing is not a harbinger of another Holocaust. Is she correct? We may not want to wait to find out. For some seventy-five years later, the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller ring in our heads, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
Edmund Burke was once quoted as saying, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Don't think that what we see in the news doesn't affect us. Don't think that we are immune, that we are safe. Don't think that we will escape by being silent. Your voice, each of your voices needs to be heard. For what is the beauty of the life that you hold dear? How much do you want to preserve it and hold on to it and cherish it? How much do you envision a world where someone can practice their faith in safety and security can live by their faith without extremism, without fanaticism? See the variety that exists in this room alone on one Friday night. Know and appreciate the difference of background, of heritage, of thought, of life's journey, know the triumphs and travails of those who are here, and speak up to defend our ways of life, the choices that we make to navigate life, to fight for the grey, the boundless, vast greyness, that exists between the blessing and the curse.
 Deuteronomy 11:26.
 Deuteronomy 11:27-28.
 Sforono to Deuteronomy 11:26.
 Ramban to Deuteronomy 11:29.
 The Chumash: The Torah with a Timeless Commentary by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, pp. 706-707.