In legal documents “crimes against humanity” are described as particularly abominable offences which constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Over the past 2 centuries or so a number of events have been branded as crimes against humanity – the most well-known of these being the Holocaust involving the Nazi’s and the Jews during the Second World War and the system of Apartheid in South Africa, which most people thought had come to an end when Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.
Zionism is a movement that says that the Jewish people have a right to a national home or state in what was the Biblical “Land of Israel”. This past week the Turkish prime minister came under fire when he described Zionism as a crime against humanity. Objections to this statement came from the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and, surprisingly, even from the United Nations. Of course, not a word from South Africa. South Africa seems to have its own battle to avoid once again being accused of crimes against humanity, following a whole series of violent incidents over the past couple of months that have put our country firmly in the spotlight of the world. Maybe it is very difficult for a government to raise its voice on matters of violence abroad, when so much injustice is surfacing in its own backyard – and nowadays increasingly within the ranks of the police – the very ones who are expected to fight violence and prevent injustice.
The majority of the 51 million people in South Africa have just about had enough of the ongoing spiral of violence in this country. “Enough is enough”, is the cry coming from all corners of our country. The frustration, mixed with sadness and even anger, is becoming more and more apparent. Is there not SOMETHING that can be done to put an end to all of this, or at least bring back some degree of normality and a sense of decency to our communities? I am sure this burning question has been asked over and over again during the past few months and that many of us are battling to come to grips with the very same issue.
There is no excuse for crimes against humanity. None of us should sit back and fold our hands and turn our heads the other way when people are being humiliated and offended in a way that strips them of their dignity and cannot be justified at all. There is no uncertainty in Scriptures about the wrongfulness of crimes against fellow human beings. We can quote hundreds of verses to proof that Yahweh the Almighty is against crime and senseless violence, and especially, crimes against humanity.
The question is, however, what about humanity’s crimes against the Almighty? Do we hear political statements and court rulings in which crimes against the Almighty are being condemned? Hardly ever. Do we see that the people of South Africa are equally frustrated about the Word of Yahweh being violated as they are about people’s rights being violated? No. People tend to criticize Scriptures because of its incidents of violence and the fact that Yahweh sometimes commanded the people of Yisrael to engage in war with other nations. Does this mean that Yahweh is violent by nature and that He condones violence? No, it only means that in certain situations a choice had to be made between violence against people and violence against Yahweh Himself. What can be more abominable and unjustifiable than violence against the Almighty, the Creator and the Sustainer of all human beings? The mere fact that crimes against humanity are seen in such a serious light in the world today, while “crimes against the Almighty” is not even a phrase that exists in people’s vocabulary, shows that we are living in a self-centred, man-orientated world and that Yahweh, the Almighty is not recognized at all by those who speak and act on behalf of the masses.
This week’s Torah Reading includes Shemot (Exodus) 31. One of the central themes in this chapter is the theme of the Shabbat. “My Sabbaths you are to guard, by all means, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, to know that I, Yahweh, am setting you apart” (Ex 31:13). It was Yahweh’s design for the Shabbat to be a clear sign that those who recognize Him and know Him are set-apart from the rest of the world. The idea is that when the people living in the world see an individual or a group of people honouring the Shabbat, they would know immediately: here is a person or a group siding with Yahweh the Almighty and obeying his Word. Some would argue that these words were given to Yisrael alone and therefore people from other nations are not included. Believers from other nations are not required to honour the Shabbat, these people would argue.
This view is extremely short-sighted. Notice the words of Ex 31:17: “Between Me and the children of Yisrael it is a sign forever. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” The reason that is given why the Shabbat should remain a sign between Yahweh and Yisrael forever, is the fact that He created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. Is the creation only about Yisrael? Are they the only ones who benefited from creation? Of course not. The creation is about all the world and all the nations of the world. Would the Creator not want people other than Yisrael to acknowledge that He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh? Of course He would. But He chose one nation as the vehicle to spread the knowledge about creation and about Shabbat, and everything else about Himself, into this world. This nation is the people of Yisrael, also known as Israel. And He said repeatedly that He wanted the blessings initially bestowed upon Yisrael to reach all the nations of the world. If the Shabbat is for Yisrael only, then all the blessings are for Yisrael only – and all the promises, and all the words of comfort, all the secrets of wisdom, all the principles of righteousness, all the psalms, all the proverbs, all the prophesies, and even the Messiah.
Let us stop focusing on crimes against humanity for one moment and think about the injustice of a human race not recognizing the One who is the Creator of every living being. One way of recognizing our Creator would be to listen to his commandments about how one should treat one’s fellow human beings. This would be a beginning and a step in the right direction. If more and more people can do this and start obeying the commandments of the Almighty – laws about mutual respect and love and favour – crime and violence and injustice will come under control and people will feel that their lives and their communities are returning back to normal again – even if all of this happens at a very slow pace and over a very long time.
If I understand Scriptures correctly, however, there is something more that should happen. The moment people become aware of the fact that Yahweh truly is the Creator and that He deserves their loyalty and respect and obedience, they should listen carefully to what He says about the Shabbat as being the sign, the unique chosen and set-apart indicator that someone has made a choice to recognize Yahweh and honour his Word. There is nothing else in Scriptures that is specifically called a sign of people belonging to Yahweh. The fact that it is called a sign FOREVER is due to the repetitive nature of the Shabbat. Every seven days this sign is supposed to come into play, for as long as one lives. And resting on this day, refraining from work and weekly duties, is only one part of what this sign is all about. It is a sign that other people should be able to see – it was never intended to be a private and personal conviction only. Therefore, if we truly desire to express our loyalty towards Yahweh, we should leave our homes and join the places and assemblies where the set-apart ones are gathering to show that we have accepted this sign of allegiance to Yahweh. Is it a crime against the Almighty not to attend a Shabbat assembly? Let me answer with another question: Is it a crime to wholeheartedly embrace a practice that has been around for thousands of years – a practice based on a direct commandment of the Almighty and aimed at constantly reminding the world that there is a Creator out there that has not given up on his plans for this world, and has neither given up on the people who chose to be associated with Him?