Tony Hicks was fourteen years old in 1995 when he shot and killed a college student named Tariq Khamisa in a gang-related robbery. Hicks was convicted of murder, and was imprisoned until 2019, but meanwhile something quite unusual occurred. Five years after the crime, Tariq’s father Azim visited Tony in prison, and gradually the two men became friends. It took another fifteen years, but eventually Tariq’s sister Tasreen also visited Tony in prison, in 2015. They too became close friends. You can hear their own description of the first meeting in a new episode of Storycorps. It is now 26 years since Tony’s terrible crime, and the painful loss that he caused remains forever. And yet reconciliation of Tariq’s family with his killer has proven redemptive in all of their lives. Tony says that getting to know Tasreen’s children—the nephews and nieces of the man he killed before they were born—adds layers of sorrow for his terrible mistake. But layers of forgiveness have also accrued, allowing all of them to grow in their humanity, to honor the memory of Tariq Khamisa.
I tell this story by way of introducing Shabbat Parah, the week when we are commanded to read Numbers 19, the description of the red heifer ritual. I understand Parah as an antidote to Zakhor, the special Shabbat preceding Purim when we are commanded to remember the vile attack of Amalek, and paradoxically, to wipe out the memory of the very people we are remembering. Zakhor is a Shabbat dedicated to remembering and combatting evil. If Amalek murdered Israelites, then Israelites should wreak revenge by killing Amalekites, as Samuel does with King Agag in the haftarah, and Mordecai does with Haman and his sons in the Megillah. There is a cruel realism to this commandment—genocidal hatred remains in the world, and this fact requires recognition, remembrance and forceful response.Continue reading