Parashat Mattot

No Neutrality: Silence Is Assent

The laws of nullifying vows teach us that our silence and inaction in the face of contemporary injustice and oppression is akin to assenting to it.

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Far from agreeing to serve as God's partners in Creation, establishing God's rule of justice and love, we have effectively turned our backs on the welfare of many of our fellow Americans and on the health of our planet. How do we participate in these evils? By not opposing them in public, we allow our silence to speak instead of our words and our deeds.

Rabbi Judah Loew, the great Maharal of Prague (16th century) wrote, "While a person may be individually pious, such good will pale in the face of the sin of not protesting against an emerging communal evil. Not only will such piety not avert the impending evil, but such a pious person will be accountable for having been able to prevent it and not doing so."

In the midst of the dark ages of his time, the Maharal understood that his obligation as a being in covenant with God was to represent God's light and God's passion, despite the powerful forces mustered in opposition.

In the midst of the current dark age, we too need to remember our eternal calling--to sanctify God in the midst of the people. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, pursuing peace and identifying with the weak, we move from silence to eloquence. We provide God with hands and a voice. There is no neutrality. Silence is assent.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.