Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Toldot, Sandy and Israel Sermon

What follows is my sermon on the recent war in Israel and Gaza, delivered on Friday, November 16.

Like so many I am still reeling from Hurricane Sandy.  I still find it hard to believe that living in such an affluent society and the center of the universe (New York, New York!), we could be without power for so long.  How can so many New Yorkers continue to be without, and not just without power but unable to even return to their homes?  I thought it was only in Louisiana and Mississippi that we saw such things.  We have learned: it not just the fury of nature, but also the folly of human beings that leads us to this end.  It is not just elsewhere but here In New York too there is ample evidence of our folly.  “Let us rebuild!” is all we seem to be able to proclaim.  “Get rid of LIPA!” we add.  “We were in the dark for far too long.”

Contrast this with events in Israel.  As all are aware, Israel is again facing relentless rocket attacks from Gaza.  Despite Israel’s recent withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinian leadership and Hamas in particular seek to destroy rather than build.  Yet many of the lights remain on in Gaza.  Why?  Because Israel provides much of the electrical power to Gaza.  Now that is amazing. Or perhaps foolish, some might say.  But I find it extraordinary.  Where there is a will, anything is possible.  We can protect ourselves and continue to live according to our moral code.  Despite Hamas’ stated intention, namely the destruction of Israel, the Jewish state refuses to let go of its values.  Its struggle is not with the citizens of the Palestinian territories but with its leaders who, time and again, choose violence and hate over peace and reconciliation.

550 rockets have been fired on Israel.  Kippat Barzel (Iron Dome) has intercepted nearly 200.  Fortunately only 25 fell on populated areas.  Israel has assassinated key leaders and targeted over 600 weapon sites, all while desperately trying to avoid hitting civilians.  When will this cease?  Why can’t Israel be allowed to live in peace?

It begins in the Torah.  It starts with the very first brothers, Cain and Abel, when Cain killed Abel.  It continues through this week’s Jacob and Esau.  Who started the fighting between the brothers?  Was it Jacob who stole the birthright and took advantage of Esau’s hunger? (What a heel!)  “I will only give you food if you first give me what is rightfully yours.”  Who is to blame?  Was it Esau who was so hungry that he spurned his heritage?  He had such disregard for his family that he could only see the lentil stew.  Was it their parents?  Isaac favored Esau; he liked the meat Esau hunted.  Rebekah favored Jacob.  Who is to blame?  Was it God?  Blasphemy, you might say.  We read: “But the children struggled in her womb…And Rebekah went to inquire of the Lord and the Lord answered: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body…’”

Who is to blame?  Is it LIPA or nature’s fury?  Sure it was a super storm.  Was it, as I believe, caused by climate change or just a once in a hundred year storm?  Can we assign blame?  There is indeed plenty of human folly to go around.  It pains me that our infrastructure is so vulnerable, that our power lines are but mere extension cords strung from one pole to another.  Can we fault others?  Should we instead fault ourselves?

Who is to blame?  Is it Israel or the Palestinians?  My sympathies are of course with Israel and its citizens.  I stand with Jacob, who will soon become Israel.  I believe that the Palestinian and Arab leadership are largely to blame for the lack of peace and the failure to establish a Palestinian State.  Now, no less, precious resources are being directed to exhume Arafat’s body in order to determine if he was poisoned.  Really!?  The cynic in me thinks, here is but one more example of resources being diverted so that the Jewish state can be blamed for all of the Palestinians’ troubles. We might soon hear, “The Jews killed Arafat.”

No sooner had Mahmoud Abbas said that he would like to visit the city of his birth, Safed, that he had to retract the statement because of riots. To go there would have been to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty.  Imagine what might have occurred were he a courageous leader.  He could say, “It is good to return to this city, to the place of my birth.  It pains me that it has taken so many years.  Here Jew and Palestinian lived side by side.  But those years are no more.”  He actually said that the Palestinians make no claim on pre-1967 Israel.  In other words he claims only the West Bank (and parts of Jerusalem) and Gaza for a Palestinian State.  And those words led to the controversy which he later retracted.

Imagine how different it could be if he went there, to Safed.  Imagine if we cast aside blame and stopped arguing over birthrights and instead shared a pot of stew.  I know; call me naive, call me a dreamer.  But hoping and dreaming is what makes you a rabbi.  Actually those are the key ingredients of being a Jew.

Imagine how different it would be if Netanyahu said likewise.  He could say, “We have no territorial claims on the West Bank.  True it is where our faith was born.  It is where our ancestors are buried.  But we will give it all up so that we can have peace and share this land.  You can live there, in my people’s birthplace, and I will continue to live here in yours.”  And he should go on to say, “If need be, we will rip out the anti-democratic forces from within our midst so that we can make peace.”

Imagine!  Is it possible to cast aside history and pain for the sake of peace?  Yitzhak Rabin (z”l) said, “There has been too much blood.”  And this has become our only truth.  There is quiet for a few months and sometimes years.  And then there is blood.

Just imagine if the values that somehow called Israel to keep the lights on in Gaza called its leadership, amidst all the rockets and the necessary defensive measures of the IDF, to stand up and say, “I am still ready to make peace.  Come to Jerusalem.   Come even to Safed.  We will never give up on peace!”  And imagine if the Palestinians, and their leadership, tossed their home made rockets into the sea, rather than vowing to push the Jews there, and answered the call of peace, and went to Safed and Jerusalem

Imagine what we could accomplish, if we cast blame aside!

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