Yad Vashem's Hall of Names
Nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, in a building constructed to remember those lost years ago, sits a man who has made it his mission to give people back their humanity. Shai ben Yehuda is the Chief Archivist for Yad VaShem in Israel. My friend and teacher, Rabbi Edward Feinstein told me a story about him recently. Shai is able, thanks to a super computer, to take the 140+ million documents and fragments of information about people who died in the Shoah and put them together to bring these victims to life, to bring them back to living, breathing human beings instead of just being one of the 6 million who died. When asked why he does this painful work, he responded with this phrase: WE NEVER THROW ANYONE AWAY.
This is, to me, the motto and work of Beit T’Shuvah, and the process and work of redemption. Never throwing anyone away is God’s motto as well. We have, in Jewish and non-Jewish spiritual literature, many instances of redemption stories. T’Shuvah was put into the world before the world was created because God knew we humans would mess up and need a way back. As I sit here writing this blog, I am struck by the Grace that God and you, the community of Los Angeles and the world, bestowed upon me when I was released from Prison in 1988. You did not throw me away even when I threw myself away.
This is the main point of my discussion. Leaving the Gates of Redemption open all the time is our way of being God-Like. In the Talmud, we are told that God cries each evening because God’s Children are in exile. Being separated from God, family, and community causes everyone else to cry. This is one of the consequences of bad behavior.
Redemption means that we can undo the past. Not actually, of course, we undo it in the present and change the context of our living. Redemption allows us to restore the dignity to another. It says to others that WE CARE. Our belief and practice of Redeeming People is our way of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY!
We are engaged in a great debate in our worlds. We listen to people speak of entitlements and what they are owed. What they are willing and unwilling to do to and for others. This is happening in our country and in Israel. What we are not talking about so much is Redemption. What we are not talking about is the dignity that each person deserves and has as a birthright.
I am asking you and myself: Whom have I thrown away as unredeemable? How have I redeemed myself and others? How am I living the Jewish and American Dream of NEVER THROWING ANYONE AWAY?
Hag Sameach and Moadim L’Simcha,
Rabbi Mark Borovitz