by Dr. David Sanders
I wash my hands both night and day
To keep the spread of COVID at bay
For 20 seconds I lather, rinse and clean
This has now become my new routine.
With the fear of corona contagion, we have become accustomed to washing our hands. But there is another unseen pathogen that is harder to wash away or wash our hands from. Shakespeare was not the first to create the image for us with Lady Macbeth washing her hands to no avail, for she cannot remove that damn spot!
The bible records an unusual practice in eight verses in Deuteronomy regarding the finding of a corpse in a remote location and the cause of death is homicide. The first directive is to determine which city is the closest to the murder victim, with the assumption that proximity is a sign of culpability. But why is anyone culpable? The rabbis elaborate that had someone offered the person refuge in their city they wouldn’t have been vulnerable to attack. Another assumption. Murder occurs because society has not taken the proper measures to ensure care and concern for all those who dwell or pass by.
What then ensues is remarkable. Once it has been determined which is the closest city, the elders of that city must gather and perform a ritual washing of their hands and pronouncing, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.”
The Talmud asks: Would we think that the elders of the city are murderers? Why is it necessary for them to publicize that they did not kill him? Rather, they must declare: “It is not so that this victim came to our city and we dismissed him without food or we did not provide him with an escort.”
What did I feel watching the murder of George Floyd? Culpability and shame. I cannot wash my hands from him and proclaim: “My hands did not shed this blood, nor did my eyes see it done.” Have I done enough to be of assistance and to care for the plight of all my brothers and sisters?
“They have eyes but do not see, they have ears but do not hear, they have voices but do not shout, they have hands but do not reach out.” Have I turned a deaf ear and a blind eye, not raised my voice loud enough and not offered a helping hand so that I am clean and clear from culpability.
As I wash my hands now day and night
I see my counterfeit concern in a new light
I will rail and protest and join in the fight
Stand up for justice and proper oversight
To ensure that no person is not treated right.
The issues we face as a nation are complex but that does not mean that I can shirk my responsibility to ensure, as much as I can, that all people are treated equally. Which one of us is not the “closest city” to the murdered victim?