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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon - Parshat Pinchus 18 Tammuz 5780

#546:   “Racism, Anti-Semitism, Speaking Truth to Peace and My New Hero”


So I’m giving this sermon via Zoom – not a live Zoom, a recorded Zoom – just by myself.  And I’m doing that – well, because I can, and it’s cool.   But I’m also doing it because I think it will be easier to share some things with you this Shabbat. 


One of those things I want to share with you.  Is a picture of my new biggest hero:  [See Slide 2]


Zach Banner.  Zach is an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers and he took offense when Sean Jackson, of the Philadelphia Eagles tweeted- quoting Adolf Hitler as saying that Black people were "the real Children of Israel," and that White Americans would be terrified to know that they have been "mistreating and discriminating and lynching" them.   


In a different post, he shared a specific paragraph referencing a Jewish plan to "extort America" and achieve "world domination."  He also shared a clip from a speech made by Louis Farrakhan, the notoriously anti-semitic Nation of Islam leader. In the speech, Farrakhan accused Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates of wanting to "depopulate the Earth" with a coronavirus vaccine.  He finished his post with the words “Hitler was right”


Jackson has apologized for his remarks, and said that he was misunderstood and is sorry for the hurt that he has caused.


 But Zach Banner was not satisfied – saying that Sean Jackson’s video - had kept him awake, Banner tweeted a message to his fellow players saying, “We must hold each other accountable. We must STAND up and for one another. We must keep our focus on the movement at hand.”

“I’m not going to lie. The lack of empathy from my brothers in the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) towards the DeSean Jackson situation…and our Jewish friends and fans – most importantly fans and the Jewish community, is…horrendous.” Banner said in a video he posted on Twitter.


“When one of us does something dumb and makes a mistake like that, we need to hold each other accountable,” Banner said. “Not only via text and not only ourselves, but publicly…”

“There’s a common mis-belief amongst black and brown people, and I know this from growing up, and I’ve heard it, and I’ve listened to it…. You mix them (Jews) up with the rest of the majority, and you don’t understand that they’re a minority as well.” 


The 2018 attack on the Eitz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh had a profound effect upon Banner as well. 


“We need to understand that Jewish people deal with the same amount of hate and similar hardships and hard times,” Banner said.

“I want to preach to the black and brown community that we need to uplift them and put our arms around them just as much when we talk about the Black Lives Matter, and we talk about elevating ourselves – we can’t do that while stepping on the back of other people to elevate ourselves. That’s very very important for me and it should be important to everyone,” he said.

“We can’t preach equality but in the result we’re just trying to flip the script and change the hierarchy,”

Banner posted a modified version of the Steelers well-known “Steelmark” logo, replacing one of the three astroids with a Star of David, saying it was “a simple, but strong representation.” [Slide 3]


He called on the NFL to pay more attention to the situation and signed the tweet – Zach ‘mensch’ Banner.


This week’s parsha highlights Pinchas,  grandson of Aharon HaKohein, who picks up a spear and kills Zimri and Kozbi, who are fornicating and highlighting the sin of Baal Peor, in which the Midianite women were tempting the men of the children of Israel into sin and idolatry.  Moshe is seemingly stymied by this brazen act and helpless to act.  Pinchas steps in and ends this flagrant violation of law and decency and torah and morality with an act of violence.  This is seen as an act of zealotry – and seems to speak to some of us in the modern world as an unsavory and terrible act of brutality and murder.  But Hashem tells us it is not so.  In this week’s parsha – God tells us -  

Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace.


יבלָכֵ֖ן אֱמֹ֑ר הִֽנְנִ֨י נֹתֵ֥ן ל֛וֹ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י שָׁלֽוֹם:

You might think that this was an act of zealotry by a crazy wild villain -  and the people were even taunting him – how could you kill a Nasi – a prince of the Jewish people?  Therefore God says – no – this was peace – this was the middle path.  What Pinchas did – was peace.    Sometimes in order for there to be peace in the world – an act of courage and truth needs to occur.    Normally when we think of peace – we think of compromise and middle ground.  This is true in any negotiation and it is true in a court of Jewish law – the ideal is to find a Pesharah – a middle path between two litigants.   But sometimes an act of strength and courage is required to forge peace.    God is telling us that Pinchas’ act was such an act.  An act of courage – of speaking truth to power – Zimri was a prince of the tribe of Shimon – Cozbi was a Midianite Princess – but that did not stop Pinchas from doing what needed to be done.


Pinchas forged peace through an act of moral courage.


I hope that Zach Banner’s act of speaking up about anti-Semitism and racism will forge peace as well. 


Why can we not have a level of sophistication in our thinking in which we can respect and talk kindly to and about other people? 


My friend Rabbi Ira Ebbin had protests going through his neighborhood a few weeks ago that were a thousand strong.   And he put the following sign up on the front laws on the shul – “Racism Has No Home Here”


And he got complaints from shul members – how could you put that up?  How can you take sides like that?   He said – “What?  You want to tell me that we support racism?  That racism has a home in our shul.  It does not.”


But he put up another sign on the shul lawn as well, which said “We support and Pray for Our Police”


Why can we not have the nuanced view in which we say “We hate racism.  And we hate the way that black people are treated with prejudice.  And we don’t like unwarranted police violence.  But we also know that the Police are our friends and most of them and most of the time are doing an amazing job.  And that ‘Cancel culture’ that doesn’t cancel Anti-Semitism is just another form of evil prejudice?  And that of course Black Lives Matter.  But when members of the Black Lives Matter movement take up cause with Palestinian terrorists and murderers that we will call them out for what it is – prejudice and hate.”  


We should be able to have the courage to say what is right – in order to make peace.


I think my new hero, Zach Banner, said it very well - “Change your heart, put your arm around people and let’s all uplift each other,” 


Amein.  Kein Yehi Ratzon.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782