Monday, May 23, 2011

Bechukotai Sermon

Before we conclude this evening’s service let me share a few words of Torah.   In Leviticus 26, our Torah portion proclaims: “I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land.  You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword…”

This promise is predicated on our observance of the commandments.  It precedes a detailed list of punishments.  I am not going to enumerate the details of these punishments but suffice it to say that if you do not obey the commandments a lot of bad things will happen.  The punishments are quite lengthy and detailed.

I wish instead to speak for a moment about the promise of peace.  “Vnatati shalom ba-aretz…  I will grant peace in the land.”  The Torah suggests that peace, and in particular peace for the land of Israel, is in our hands.

This of course is the question of the day, and especially of this week.  President Obama just made a major speech about the Middle East and the peace process.  He suggested that the contours of a future Palestinians State would follow the 1967 borders.  Where it didn’t there would be land swaps in exchange.  He left unanswered the questions of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

There is no doubt that in the pursuit of peace Israelis will have to make major, painful concessions.  There should also be little doubt that Israel (and the Palestinians) can’t make peace unilaterally.  Peace, however, much we might wish it to be so, is not entirely dependent on us.

Our observance can only grant us respite of the soul.  Peace of the land is not only in our own hands.  We can withdraw from much of the West Bank and even uproot settlements.  But this alone will not bring peace.  The Palestinians must affirm the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East.  They must affirm that this state is rooted in ancient history.  Without that all of the painful sacrifices and security guarantees will not, cannot bring peace.

And so we might feel understandably nervous and anxious.  I find myself quite pessimistic about the possibilities of peace.  For such an upbeat person this is as well an unnerving situation.

And so at such times we must continue praying for peace.  Our tradition commands us that we must never lose hope.  As the Psalmist says, “Shaalu shalom yerushalayim.”   (Psalm 122)   May it indeed be so!  We cannot afford to lose hope!  Never!

V’natati shalom ba-aretz.  May the land be granted peace!

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