THE BLOG
12/21/2012 12:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 20, 2013

We Must Protect the Defenseless

Sermon delivered Friday evening, Dec. 14 at Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, Md.

In the Jewish tradition the epitome of evil is Amalek. In Deuteronomy 17 we are taught why there is a war between God and Amalek forever: "Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God."

Judaism teaches us to have special care for the most vulnerable among us, those who are helpless and defenseless. The Amalekites are considered especially evil because they attacked, not soldiers, but precisely those who were most helpless and defenseless -- the elderly, the stragglers and the children.

My friend Rabbi Jack Bloom of Fairfield, Conn., wrote an article some years on "Amalek and Us" where he points out that the Hebrew text, as opposed to most English translations, is actually fairly ambiguous. The Hebrew does not really make explicit that it was Amalek who did not fear God. The Hebrew says "atah ayef v'yageah, v'lo ya'rei 'elohim" -- literally, "you were tired and weary and did not fear God." While most translations assume that it is Amalek who did not fear God, the Hebrew text leaves open the possibility that it was the Israelites who did not fear God. In their own weariness, in their own fear, they were the ones who left the most vulnerable members of their society defenseless. Yes, Amalek was evil and there is no justification for attacking the weary and the stragglers; but it was us who did not fear God, by leaving the vulnerable exposed, and it is our own inaction which allowed Amalek to attack.

Our children are the most dependent and vulnerable members of our society and this morning we failed to protect them, and thus Amalek, the epitome of evil, struck. A society is judged by how well it cares for those who are most vulnerable, and this morning our society failed. Rabbi Bloom teaches us that if we don't take care of the defenseless ones, we do not fear God. And the truth is, we don't. The Shabbat after Columbine I gave a sermon and I said I would not rest until we had stronger gun laws in our country. And I was very passionate about the issue for about two weeks and then things pretty much went back to normal. And I am sure that I am not alone.

Do we fear God? Do our politicians fear God or do they fear the NRA? Until we figure out a way to protect the most defenseless ones who have been entrusted to our care, we have truly failed as a society.