The Jewish Response to the tragic death of George Floyd


It doesn’t matter how angry you are there is nothing that can justify crime. And it is the government's job to protect us, not stand aside.



Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski , 





המהומות בארה"ב

המהומות בארה"ב

צילום: REUTERS/Carlos Barria




We are all horrified by the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin. In Jewish law you are never allowed to kill anyone extra-judicially. If you did, you would be charged with first-degree murder. We are a civilized people who live by law and order. The killing of George Floyd despite his desperate pleas that he can’t breathe, was vicious, immoral and tragic.

Whenever we are confronted with a tragedy that’s so morally reprehensible there’s a superficial way to deal with it and then there’s the Torah way. The superficial way to deal with it is to be outraged, 'how dare that lowlife do something so horrible'. We wag our finger, pound our chest and feel so self-righteous and full of moral indignation. We may even feel like saints by comparison.

This immature approach doesn’t lead to any real change. It’s synthetic, and like cheap perfume, it quickly evaporates, it doesn’t mean a thing and it doesn’t cover up the inner stench or the ugliness. All that’s accomplished is to walk away with a holier-than-thou attitude, an insufferable sense of arrogance and haughtiness that repulses everyone - who then tunes you out together with your message.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews don’t get up and confess to other people’s sins. We focus exclusively on our own personal failures and shortcomings. Criticism does not change anyone. When you share something real that’s going on inside of you, your own inner struggles and personal vulnerabilities, then people listen, learn and walk away inspired.

The Torah teaches us how to grow from such a tragic event. The fact that 99.9% of us would never do what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd doesn’t make us righteous or good. We’re not even tempted. The fact that we won’t rape or murder doesn’t make us upright citizens. As the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in Tanya (chapter 30,) we have to compare apples to apples. In order to truly relate to what happened we have to look closely at our own personal struggles.

Despite his inner demons and huge struggle to which we can’t even relate, we expected Derek Chauvin to have checked his impulse and overcome his own overwhelming desire to cruelly and mercilessly choke George Floyd to death. We insist that he should have done the right thing.

The honest question we have to ask ourselves is how are we doing in those areas in our lives with which we struggle. We all know how difficult it is to change. We know how difficult it is to even lose a single pound when we desperately want to and yet we can’t make a dent. Years go by with no movement or change. Cruelty takes many subtle forms, from embarrassing a person in public, being cruel and insensitive to your spouse, to your children, to your parents and to your co-workers. Are we demanding of ourselves the same that we are demanding from Derek Chauvin?

When you compare apples to apples, we get off our high horse and we lose our arrogance. It completely humbles us. Only then can we genuinely begin to relate to the struggle of the would-be murderer and rapist. While we expect them to be able to overcome their struggle and do the right thing, if we don’t struggle in our own personal lives then who is the true lowlife? Surely it’s us, we who are educated, who should know better and yet don’t budge an inch. This kind of introspection deflates our ego and motivates us to change from within, which could inspire others to change as well.

How are we doing in the goodness and the kindness department? It’s been over two weeks. Is America having a makeover? Are we seeing a dazzling outburst of goodness and kindness all across our great nation? Not quite. Instead we have witnessed an outburst of cruelty, viciousness, evil and hatred that’s unprecedented in modern day American history.

The only reason an individual agrees to give up his G‑d given personal rights in a democracy is because the government promises to keep them safe.

What happened to George Floyd was a tragedy but what happened in its aftermath is an even greater tragedy. It doesn’t matter how angry you are there is nothing in the world that can justify a single crime. We are witnessing before our very eyes the crumbling and the complete disintegration of civilized societyNow we’re hearing calls to defund and dismantle the police.

The only thing we should defund are our schools. An educational system that could produce a Derek Chauvin who could mercilessly and coldbloodily choke a person to death while he’s pleading for his life has failed miserably. An educational system that could produce those who murder, loot, destroy people’s livelihoods, throw bricks at people has failed. An educational system that could produce our feckless leaders with no spine or backbone who didn’t have the courage to nip the riots in the bud with the first criminal act by arresting those criminals and holding them in prison, has failed.

The only reason an individual agrees to give up his G‑d given personal rights in a democracy is because the government promises to keep them safe. Any government that shirks its primary responsibility to keep its citizens, its families and their businesses safe is not a government but a mafia with guns.

What’s most shocking of all is the silent majority who remains silent, those who allow themselves to be intimidated by these bums, lowlifes, hooligans and terrorists. Shockingly these terrorists have taken over Seattle and no one says a word or lifts a finger to nip this anarchy in the bud.

If this is allowed to continue you can say goodbye to America. Start reciting the Kaddish.

The Torah teaches us to give people the benefit of the doubt, innocent until proven guilty. So how dare someone call millions of good people racist. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t horrified by the death of George Floyd. Do you know anyone who wasn’t horrified by the death of George Floyd? There are 900,000 police officers in the United States and hundreds of thousands of them are blacks. It’s safe to say that 99% of them were horrified by what happened to George Floyd. How dare someone accuse these hard-working men and women who risk their life every day for us, and paintbrush them with the broad stroke of racism.

Defund the police? There are tens of thousands of black men and women walking the face of the earth, who are alive today only thanks to the heroic work of these police men and women. It is they who single-handedly brought crime down in NYC from the 2200 murders a year in the Dinkin era to 300 a year today. This is how they are shown gratitude - by vilifying them? All black lives matter. Who will suffer the most from defunding and dismantling the police? The black community that we claim to care so much about.

These terrorists have destroyed black communities all across America. As a direct consequence, with police busy elsewhere, on May 31, Chicago had the highest record of murders in its history, 18 dead, most of them blacks. Crime is skyrocketing all across the country thanks to these thugs. The black people are crying they have nowhere to shop for food or get their medicines because of the stores that were looted and the businesses that were destroyed. No one is listening and no one cares.

Tragically there wasn’t a policeman in sight because their hands were tied by our feckless governors and mayors who let the criminals vent.

 What about the immigrant who couldn’t afford insurance and put his life savings and spent a lifetime building his business? While he was forced by the government to be under curfew that same government allowed the anarchists, looters, thieves, hooligans, criminals and murderers to destroy overnight, his life’s work. Tragically there wasn’t a policeman in sight because their hands were tied by our feckless governors and mayors who let the criminals vent.

These bums had the chutzpah to do damage to a Church a block away from the White House. Where’s the outcry!

What about the over a dozen people who have died in the riots. All Black life matters? What about the life of St. Louis retired police officer David Dorn? What about the life of Federal officer Patrick Underwood who was brutally murdered in Oakland, California?

There’s an expression in Yiddish: "A fish that stinks, stinks from the head." It’s the elite supremacists, the intellectual terrorists, who are an immediate threat to civilized people all over the world. These cultural elite terrorists, the western Taliban, a group of gangsters who don’t have a single moral fiber left in them, or a single ounce of goodness, kindness, truth or G‑dliness, are the ones who are truly responsible for mercilessly destroying our cities, our communities and the lives and reputations of good and decent people. These culturally elite supremacists have their knee pressing down on our collective neck while we are choking to death. An educational system that has produced these morally bankrupt intellectually elite supremacists has failed miserably.

The Jewish people have an answer to the chaos and confusion that has gripped the nation and it is high time that we share our secret with the world.

These culturally elite supremacists have their knee pressing down on our collective neck while we are choking to death.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheneerson obm, publicly pleaded 40, 50, 60 years ago for the public schools to introduce a moment of silence. He insisted that the only way to build a genuinely just society that’s not based on power but one based on morality, truth, ethics and justice where people are able to police themselves, is to bring prayer back to the Public schools in the form of a moment of silence.

Every day, he said, should start with a moment of silent meditation. It would be the parent’s obligation to tell the child what to think during those 60 seconds. Jewish parents could tell their children to think of the holiest Jewish prayer: Shma Yisroel. Let the Christian and Muslim parents tell their children to pray to G‑d in their way. If you’re a diehard atheist tell your child to think about being a kind, decent and respectful human being. We must impress on our 60 million children that there’s something far more important than math, science and physics, that there’s something that even precedes their career, the knowledge and awareness of something greater than all of us put together, a Higher Power, a Higher Being, an Eye that Sees and an Ear that Hears.

Ultimately the reason we don’t commit a crime is not because we may not get away with it, that we may get caught, but because it’s wrong. Why? Because G‑d said so.

This is our secret. Education, education, education. The Jewish people have always placed a supreme value on education. What is education? What is the primary goal of education? The key purpose of education is to educate a child to become a civilized human being who learns to check his impulses and do the right thing. What is the cornerstone, the bedrock and the foundation of all education? It rests on one single truth. As Maimonides opens his Magnum Opus his Mishnah Torah: The Foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know G‑d. As the rabbis (Ethics of Our Fathers chapter 2 Mishnah 1) teach us: Know what’s above you that there’s an eye that sees and an ear that hears and that all of your actions are recorded.

Ultimately why don’t we murder, only because G‑d said so.

Why don’t we steal, only because G‑d said so.

Why don’t we harm another human being only because G‑d said so.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37A) tells us why did G‑d create a single man Adam to be the sole ancestor of all 7 to 8 billion people alive today? So that no one family or race can claim to be superior. We are all one whether you’re white, black, red or yellow. What unifies us is the highest common denominator, that we are all created in the image of G‑d. We are all descendants of Noah who is like Adam. Noah and his family heroically led a righteous life while everyone around them were hopelessly corrupt. Noah is the role model for all mankind who are tasked with the Divine mission and responsibility to become Noahides. By following the universal Seven Noahide laws, the eternal divine code of morality, ethics and spirituality we civilize ourselves and we civilize the world around us.

There’s a beautiful story told about the great late 18th century Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. The day before Passover the Rebbe summoned his chassidim and demanded that they bring him any smuggled goods they could find. “Rebbe,” they protested. “Don’t you know that if you are caught with contraband the czar will hang you in public?” The Rebbe insisted. Within the hour the Rebbe’s home was filled with every smuggled item imaginable.

Then the Rebbe turned to his hassidim and demanded that they bring him a slice of bread. “Rebbe,” they cried out. “Don’t you know that we’ve spend the last few weeks cleaning our homes for Passover removing any leavened bread and products. Why just last night we searched our houses for any last trace of chometz and just this morning we burned all the leftover leavened bread.” The Rebbe, however, insisted. The Chassidim spread out throughout the entire town of Berditchev in search of a single slice of bread. A few hours later they came back to the Rebbe reporting that they checked in every nook and cranny and couldn’t find a single crumb of bread in all of Berditchev.

The holy Rebbe with tears in his eyes looked up to heaven. “Father in heaven, Master of the Universe,” he cried. “The czar decreed no smuggled goods, he has police, he has an army, just the other week he hanged someone in the public square and yet the border is porous with every conceivable contraband imaginable. You, however, have no army and no police, we haven’t seen you in 1700 years since the destruction of Your holy Temple, yet you wrote in your Torah, Thou shall not have leavened bread and there isn’t a single crumb of bread to be found in all of Berditchev.”

The black community at its core is deeply spiritual. In the early 20th century there was hardly any crime in America. During the depression when there was real hunger (today in America, thank G‑d we don’t know the true meaning of hunger) people slept with their doors unlocked, there was no inner city crime. The black community is traditionally very spiritual and very religious. There was prayer in the schools, people said grace after their meals and went to bed with a prayer.

Dividing people by race by dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator is reverse racism. We expect every human being without a single exception to live up to G‑d’s standards, to His code of behavior and code of honor: the seven universal Noahide Laws. It is no coincidence that since 1962 when G‑d was cruelly expelled from the public schools and from the public square crime has shot up by thousands of percentage points.

What is the solution to this tragic and sorry state of affairs that has left us all reeling in shock and disbelief?

We must rebuild society from the ground up. First, we must start with the foundation. A moment of silence in the schools is what America desperately needs today starting right now. This is the greatest gift we the Jewish people could give to America in this moment of crisis. America has been so kind to us we owe it to our fellow Americans to share the secret of our miraculous survival. Introducing a moment of silence to the daily life our kids would guarantee that going forward what happened today would never happen again. Our children would grow up with a strong inner sense of right and wrong, with an internal compass and the Derek Chauvin’s of the world might also grow up with the strength of character and with the tools to be able to overcome their inner demons.

The Unites States of America is presently standing at a crossroads. Either we go the way of Venezuela or we live up to the greatness with which G‑d has entrusted us. We love America, our heart cries out for America and we pray that G‑d bless and protect America.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski serves as Director of Chabad of the Upper East Side, Manhattan




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