Sunday, September 14, 2008

We have met the Rubashkin and he is us

(adapted from a sermon for Shabbos Ki Tetze, 5768)

R’ Sokol spoke this Shabbos, speaking of the commands to help someone’s overloaded donkey. One version is stated here, that one must help one’s friend’s donkey that has collapsed under its load, the other version is stated elsewhere, that one must help reload the donkey of someone whom you hate.

How can this other version even exist, when it is a sin to hate another person (Jew?) in one’s heart?

The Meshech Chochmah makes a distinction: this version is at the end of the wandering in the desert, the version about the donkey of one’s enemy was given before, back at or near Sinai. How does that make a difference?

What does it mean to hate? One shouldn’t hate the person, that’s the mitzvah. But one can hate the sin in a person. If someone is keeping uneven weights or otherwise behaving abhominably, one can, in theory, hate them for their sin, for the way their sin is dragging us all down. However, that only worked at the beginning of the Desert experience. By the end of the desert wanderings, the Jews have made themselves full of sin, through the Golden Calf, through all the complaints, through all the rebellions against G0d, the questioning of God and Moshe. At that point, everyone is burdened with sin equally. So from that point forward, until today, the permit to hate someone, is a dead letter. Because how can we hate the sinfulness of another when we ourselves are equally burdened with sin?

Hence the version expressed in today’s parsha: to help the donkey of our brother, because everyone is our brother in sin.

Throughout all this Rubashkin/Agriprocessors business, and while trying to maintain objectivity and separation, it’s hard to say there’s nothing happening, between the safety violations, the immigration charges, and now the child-labor charges, we have tried to say that there are no moral failings on the part of the Rubashkins. Now, it’s possible with these new charges that there may have been moral failings. But there have been those who say they hate Rubashkins for what they have done. And that crosses a line that, according to the Meshech Chochmah, we cannot cross.

Because we, as much as Rubashkins, are sunk in sin. Can all of us really say that we have never cut corners, never sinned with money, never manipulated people to do things? Much as their actions, and perhaps moral failings, are reprehensible, they are also ours. And the Rubashkins are also tremendous baalei Chesed, baalei Tzedaka. Do their moral failings erase that? Then our moral failings also erase the good we do.

We cannot hate the Rubashkins, because Rubashkin is us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BTW, the charges change nothing. We knew before the charges were filed that illegal workers were there. Fake ages on already fake documents is not surprising. The question is, did they know?

Which was the question before the charges. The documents publicized only say that the Rubashkins were onsite. Not surprising, but hardly an indication that they knew the particulars of specific individuals in their huge workforse.