Parashat Ki Teitzei – by Maegan Knauf
My journey into Judaism has been recent. My immediate family is not very religious. We went to shul on the High Holidays and celebrated Hanukkah and that was about it. Occasionally I would attend Friday night services at the Reform temple with my best friend and her family. During my teenage years I did not think much about religion or being Jewish. Once I went away to college, I stopped attending temple services and observing holidays all together. I would tell people I was Jewish when they asked me my religion, but it seemed like a meaningless title.
As an adult I struggled with who I was and how I wanted to be defined. I am a mother, wife, nurse, but the picture was not complete. Something was missing. When I had my first daughter, I made the decision to have a naming ceremony for her. That required becoming involved in the local synagogue and having discussions with the rabbi.
That is how I found the missing piece. I found my place among the Jewish community. I was Jewish and I was proud to be Jewish and my relationship with my community and G-d have helped me complete my own personal identity. So, when I moved to Albany three years ago, the first thing I did was find a new community in B’nai Sholom. Finding this community has not only helped me feel complete, but it has helped my keep my faith during these past few years that have been eye-opening to a grim reality.
The polarization of political parties, the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing violent acts of racism and anti-Semitism is, for lack of a better phrase ‘absolutely terrifying.’ It is hard to believe that as far as we have come as a society, there is still so much hate in today’s world. Hate between political parties, hate toward the LGBTQ community, hatred of religious groups and POC. Not only is there so much hate, but it is becoming more openly displayed and accepted under the guise of free speech and personal rights.
I am Jewish, and while I have never directly been the victim of anti-Semitism, I feel the hate when I hear of shootings at synagogues or when we must have the discussion of how to protect ourselves during an active shooting. We attend service for worship but must remember to stay hyper-vigilant, to be aware of our surroundings and alert to any threats. But despite all this hate and negativity, I find myself drawn toward my religion and focusing on my relationship with G-d and continuing to define myself.
Which brings me to the Parashat Ki Teitzei. I am not going to lie – when I signed up for this, I had no idea what I was doing. I have never done Torah study and I did not know anything about this teaching. So, I did what any millennial in 2022 would do and turned to the internet. I found a podcast called “On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Rick Jacobs.” I listened to his 10-minute d’var Torah on Ki Teitzei and “How Not to Hate.” I thought it was very fitting for these times. It focused on the passage, “You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land.” His explanation went into how even though the Jews were slaves and suffered greatly, they should not hate the Egyptians – that before the Egyptians made them slaves, they welcomed them as friends. The next verse goes on to say, “We can admit their descendants into our community in the third generation.” They should remember the suffering, and they should be able to forgive; however, forgiveness is not that easy and it will take time.
It is easier to be angry than let go of our anger. It is easier to hate than to forgive. But to forgive means to heal. When we focus on the negative, we allow ourselves to be consumed by the negative energy. Instead, we should practice mindfulness. Let the hate be just a negative thought that we recognize, reflect on, learn from and then let go.
This is not a new concept to me. As a nurse I deal with disgruntled patients all the time. I get called names, I have things thrown at me, I am assaulted with both words and violence. Despite all of this I have understanding and forgiveness. It is not always easy, but I know that I am seeing most of these people during the worst time of their lives. That they are frightened, lonely and sometimes very angry, or that they are mentally ill and cannot help it. But even for the ones who aren’t any of those things, the ones who are just cruel and hateful, I do not reciprocate violence, I show compassion, I keep them safe, and I help care for them without prejudice. I stay true to who I am, and I understand that while it might feel better in the moment to scream and shout and be as equally disrespectful, and to “hate them” when I look back on the moment, I would regret all of that.
To “not hate the Egyptians” does not mean to forget the suffering that took place; it means to live a life without hate in your heart, to be mindful, to be true to who you are, to be the better person. Forgive but don’t forget. Let it be a lesson for how we should treat others and how to live our best lives.