In recent weeks the images and news reports regarding the barbaric acts of the Islamic State have been horrifying. We read about the deceptions of unbelievers; crucifixions, burying women and children alive and randomly shooting pedestrians and motorists – all in the name of Islam. We read about the destruction of Christian neighborhoods; the looting of businesses and violent forced conversions – all in the name of Islam.
As non-Muslims, many look to these horrors and declare that the teachings of their faith are filled with hatred, violence and xenophobia. While this is indeed partially true, it is also true that the Torah and Christian Bible are also filled with hateful vile materials.
This week’s Torah portion is one such passage. It reads:
You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their alters, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. (Deut. 12:2-3)
When we read such passages, it is difficult to accept that our holy scriptures contains such teachings, and yet, it is how we have interpreted these teachings that set us apart from the extremists. Over the course of centuries, we have found ways to re-read such teachings to remove the xenophobia and violence.
The processes through which our sages approached these texts will be the focus of my sermon on Friday night. Join us to hear the message live or stream it at home, and try to remember every faith has intolerant scriptural materials. It is the way that each of us choose to interpret these texts which makes all the difference in the world.