I am thinking about evil more often than I’d like to these days. The death of Samantha Josephson, the college student who was murdered by a man she thought was her Uber driver, hit very close to home. Her funeral was held at Beth Chaim, just across the river in New Jersey. Also, two of our members are connected to her family. One person said to me that, for her, the case wasn’t about someone getting into the wrong car, it was about a person intent on evil.
I am not naïve enough to think that each of us doesn’t have the potential to do something terrible. But we are taught right from wrong, love and commitment, responsibility and kindness. I don’t believe more people have evil in their hearts today than in days gone by, but I do think, however, that there is more of a permissibility granted these days for incivility and isolation. And that leads directly toward violence.
For the ancient Israelites, the sense that God would save them from evil and danger was quite literal. I often think of the classic book “Purity and Danger,” in which the sociologist Mary Douglas discusses how the book of Leviticus is really a manual about how to keep people safe from harm. It is often viewed as entirely anachronistic; we no longer do sacrifices, so why read Leviticus? But sacrifices were the way to ensure that God would remain with the community, thereby protecting it from danger and evildoers.
Wandering in the desert as they were, life was fraught with danger and uncertainty for the ancient Israelites. Today, I search the book of Leviticus, not to re-create some ancient protective technology, but to reflect how I might ensure that divine presence and Godliness remain in our midst, enabling me and our precious community to feel more safe and whole.