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A Modern Day Hillel (Vayakhel/Pekude – 03/13/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

A Modern Day Hillel
The great sage, Hillel (first century BCE), adjured to us seek out peace. He used to say: “Love peace, pursue peace, love humankind, and draw them close to the Torah.”
This past week we saw this teaching being implemented beautifully by the Patriots’ wide receiver, Julian Edelman. He was reaching out to Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard.
On Monday, Leonard was playing Call of Duty: Warzone on his Twitch channel (a platform that allows people to watch experts and stars play video games) when, during the heat of battle, the 29-year-old belted out an anti-Semitic obscenity. His outburst was live-streamed and then promoted to his 177,000 Twitter followers. Cursing out those shooting at him he called them a “k**e bit*h.”
Immediately severely denigrated for this remark, Leonard claims he didn’t understand the real meaning of the word. On Instagram he responded:
“I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur during a Livestream yesterday. While I didn’t know what the word meant at the time, my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong. I am now more aware of its meaning and I am committed to properly seeking out people who can help educate me about this type of hate and how we can fight it.”
The NBA fined Leonard $50,000 and he was suspended for a week. Furthermore, he has lost many sponsors and his Twitch account was suspended.
However, he was apologetic, and he asked for someone to help him understand and move from his wrong. Will someone arise that will not just judge and fine him?
Julian Edelman, whose father is Jewish and has recently started to delve into his Judaism, responded to Leonard’s request on Twitter.
An open letter to Meyers Leonard
So we’ve never met, I hope we can one day soon.
I’m sure you’ve been getting lots of criticism
for what you said. Not trying to add to that, I
just want to offer some perspective.
I get the sense that you didn’t use that word
out of hate, more out of ignorance.
Most likely, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone
or even profile Jews in your comment.
That’s what makes it so destructive.
When someone intends to be hateful, it’s
usually met with great resistance.
Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has
greater reach, especially when you command
great influence.
Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can
rapidly spread.
I’m down in Miami fairly often. Let’s do a
Shabbat dinner with some friends. I’ll show you
a fun time.
“Love peace, pursue peace, love humankind and draw them close to the Torah.”
Edelman is gracious and forgiving but also inviting, “Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends.”
Shabbat is Judaism’s greatest legacy. It’s one day to separate from the activity and stress of the week and concentrate on friends, family, and spirituality. A Shabbat meal served sumptuously but intertwined with calm and relaxation is a great way not only to make friends but also to teach others about Judaism.
We live in a society that loves to condemn. Leonard is going through the wringer right now with numerous punitive actions upon him. However, Edelman’s path may be the most effective in turning someone ignorant into a friend. As they say, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
It’s a little early for some of us to be inviting friends over, but hopefully, we’ll reach that time soon. Whom do we know that we could transform through a Shabbat meal? Whom can we pursue and bring closer to Torah? Let’s get our Shabbat (and Seder) tables ready.

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