June 2018, Parshat Chukat

Dear friends,

Along with many Melbournians I was struck by the terrible crime that rocked our city in the past week with the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, a fellow Melbournian who was killed walking home from her comedy gig in the Melbourne CBD. This crime rocked our city as a flashpoint for anger at violence against women.

It has added to #metoo’s exposure of women as fair game for harassment, the gendered nature of domestic violence, and spurred a conversation about the hyper-awareness women practice to be safe.

In light of this murder and the terrible violence it brought to our city, tens of thousands of people gathered for a candlelight vigil to reclaim Princes Park and the violence that occurred.

The thousands of people who gathered there to reflect on this shocking crime in our city is testament to the profound effects that such an event has had and will continue to have on our city. Today, we are grappling with male sexual abuse, misuse of power, and inappropriate conduct on a daily basis.

Through the #metoo movement, we have learned about politicians, actors, producers, news anchors, businessmen, musicians, professors, and everyday individuals who assert power through sexual violence and power.

Through the murder of one of our own city’s residents we have learned that indiscriminate violence can occur to anyone, especially women, by persons they have never even met before!

In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Chukat, Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses dies. We learn that after the death of Miriam the well of water that used to follow the Jewish people around the desert dried up and disappeared and was no longer present.

The Kli Yakar commentary writes that the minimal press given to Miriam’s death indicates that the people got used to the presence of Miriam’s well.  The Kli Yakar, suggests that the people of Israel did not properly eulogize Miriam and mourn her loss and, as punishment for this disrespect, the Jewish people lost the miraculous well that provided them with water in the desert.

They took Miriam, for granted (how many mothers and big sisters are entitled to make this complaint!) and, therefore, they were punished by the removal of the well when Miriam’s merit could no longer generate this benefit for them.

Many times, I have walked out of a funeral with the emotion “I did not fully appreciate this person while he/she was still alive.” This is exactly what happened with Miriam. The well was in her merit. But she died and it was “another day at the office” for the rest of the nation. Her righteousness and merit had been taken for granted. The Torah is telling us this is not right. When such a person dies, it is incumbent – at least retroactively – to try to understand who she was and to give her the tribute she deserved.

The contrast between the events of this week and the Parsha could not be clearer. While in the instance of Miriam the people of Israel did not adequately mourn her, this week our city, the city of Melbourne, has been in a state of intense mourning for Eurydice. The message is clear: when a person dies, their death is something that must be examined and it is a time for introspection to assess what we must learn from their life and their death.

Our city of Melbourne will rise to the demands of many and ensure the safety of our city for all who walk its streets. The time for action is now. We must not become bystanders or get frustrated with the lack of progress. Each person can add their voice and together each of these voices can become a huge cry for change.

It sometimes takes something jarring to wake people up from their autopilot modes to realise not everything is okay and change is needed. The events of this past week and the Parsha make it clear: we must not take women, indeed anyone, for granted and change is needed.

Wishing you and your loved ones a peaceful and restful Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi