Thank you for welcoming us back to Toronto. Avital and I are so happy to be back among our friends in this beautiful congregation. Our trip to Israel was everything that we could have hoped for. We experienced Israel through the eyes of our children (and also through their stomachs). We are so thankful to you our community for allowing us this time away – to show our children Israel for the first time. I want to specifically thank Rabbi Noah Cheses and Joyce Eklove for doing such a great job looking after everything while we were away.
Since my return, I have received many warm hellos, handshakes, and hugs. After the “How was your trip?” greetings, I’ve been getting a fairly consistent question, “Rabbi - tell us about Israel – what is the spirit like over there? – what are people saying about the Iran deal?”
Here’s my answer: Israelis are relieved to enjoy a summer without war. They are happy to see their children come home from tzahal every week and to see them sit down at their Shabbat tables. Despite all the diplomatic and political turmoil of these past months, Israelis are experiencing some nechama – some comfort – it has been a beautiful, busy and peaceful summer.
The Iran deal doesn’t change much for the average Israeli. The existential angst of living in a small country with terrible enemies who seek its destruction hasn’t gone anywhere. For some time now, this stress has been normalized – the market long ago integrated this variable into the price of Israeli life. No one in Israel believes that the deal is going to prevent Iran from getting a bomb – so there is no psychological relief in its potential postponement. The fine points of US foreign policy and the potential reordering of the US - Israel relationship is an issue that Israelis see at a distance. The relationship has always had its ups and downs, and, honestly, Jews in North America care much more deeply about it than does the average Israeli (for better or worse).
This Shabbat, I had planned to share a rabbinic perspective on the Iran deal – and I will, but not in the way that I first intended. This week, when I first wrote my reflections for the “Torah for Your Life” e-mail, I wrote about a chilul hashem that took place on Monday aboard a Porter flight to Toronto. A Jewish male passenger created a tumult by refusing to sit next to a female passenger. After reflecting (I hope intelligently) on the fact that these issues can usually be overcome if we just demonstrate respect for one another, I learned about the terrible stabbing at the Jerusalem Pride parade – a far worse chillul hashem. I changed my e-mail and added a paragraph condemning this terrible attack and praying for the health of the injured. After sending off the e-mail on Friday morning, I was horrified to learn of an act of arson in the village of Duma that killed a Palestinian baby and injured his parents. Israeli reports point to the near certainty that this act was committed by Jews as a “price tag” killing. Can there be a greater chillul hashem – desecration of God’s name – than such terrorism?
For seven years, I have delivered elaborate and often complex divrei torah. Today, I have a very simple message from our parsha. Lo tirtzach. Do not murder. That’s it. It’s commandment number 6 – at the top of tablet number 2. There’s no commentary. There’s no rashi, there’s no ibn ezra, there’s no ramban on these words in our parsha. It is very simple – do not murder.
The ten-commandments that appear in our parsha are often read vertically – on the right side we find commandments that speak of our relationship with God and on the left about our relationship with our fellow man. The ten-commandments can also be read horizontally - as couplets. Commandment number 10 relates to commandments number 5 – commandment number 9 is linked to commandment number 4. The command not to murder is linked to which command – I am the Lord your God – because we are each created in the image of God. To take a human life is to extinguish an image of God from this world – to erase the name of God. There is no greater desecration of God than taking the life of an innocent.
What do these events that took place in the past two days have to do with the Iran deal? We – who are so concerned for the safety of Israel – we who sweat over every detail of the Iran deal – must recognize that Israel’s security is not achieved by material means alone. There is a spiritual and moral dimension to Israel’s security.
When an attack takes place at a Pride Parade in Jerusalem – Israel’s reputation as a place of tolerance is undermined. Israel’s enemies take to the blogs and with jeers about pink-washing describe how there is little difference between how homosexuals are treated in Israel and how they are treated in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. In Israel, freedom of expression is a security issue. There is a spiritual and moral dimension to Israel’s security.
When Palestinian children are murdered because they are Palestinians, all people of good conscience – Jews and non-Jews question the values at the core of the Zionist endeavor. Have we raised our children to be racists? Are the people responsible for this terrible crime any different than a white supremacist in South Carolina? In Israel, civil rights is a security issue. There is a spiritual and moral dimension to Israel’s security.
As terrible as the atomic threat is – there is a greater threat. That threat is both psychological and social. It is spiritual and moral. It is the threat of forgetting why Israel exists. It is the threat of forgetting a two-thousand-year exile and the lesson of what it means to be the minority? It is the threat of forgetting the Torah that has preserved us through history? It is the threat of forgetting the words – lo tirtzach – and the words anochi hashem elokecha?
We pay so much attention to the physical threats to Israel but what about the spiritual and moral threats to its existence. We mourned the destruction of the temple on Sunday. Why was it destroyed? I’ll tell you the answer. It was destroyed because the Romans were stronger than the Jews. But that’s not what our sages say. They tell us that it was destroyed because of a spiritual and moral failure – it was destroyed because of senseless hatred sinat chinam. Our sages do not deny the physical reason that I just described. Not one of our sages would say that the Romans were not stronger. Yet, our sages looked more deeply into the situation and saw spiritual and moral – psychological and social causes for the failure of the second Jewish commonwealth.
If we are to protect the third Jewish commonwealth, then we must join our sages and see Israel’s security more fully and more honestly. We as Jews and Zionists must find a motivation to continue the struggle for our people’s existence in our land. This motivation will not be found around Viennese negotiating tables. It will be found at the table of justice and of kindness – at the table of human rights and of spiritual generosity. It will be found at tables upon which the words anochi hashem elokecha and lo tirtzach are still read.
Isaiah says, “nachamu nachamu ami” – comfort, comfort my people…
A voice calls in the wilderness, “Clear the way for God; make a straight road in the plain a highway for our Lord. Every valley shall be raised, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall become straight and the rugged a level land.”
If you travel along route one up to Jerusalem right now, you will see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Valleys are being raised and mountains are being made low to ease the path to God’s city. Massive construction is taking place as the curves in the highway are being made straight and tunnels are being bored through mountains. We reach Jerusalem along physical roads and along spiritual paths. We reach Jerusalem through seeking out God’s values and God’s love. We have many curves still to make straight – but let us gain comfort in knowing that we are still working on that road. L’shana Habaah B’Yerushalayim Habenuyah.