I have written four separate divrei Torah this week because events in the Middle East have shifted so quickly that the theme of one drash was eclipsed almost as soon I had concluded writing it.
The first was about Pinchas, based on this week’s Parashah. Pinchas was a righteous zealot who accused, judged, condemned, and executed with one thrust of his sword an Israelite man and Midianite woman locked in amorous embrace in the camp.
The second d’var Torah focused on our people’s sympathy and love for the mourning families of the three Israeli teens murdered by Hamas terrorists a few weeks ago.
The third dvar Torah was a reflection on Israel’s sins in the wake of the vicious murder of a Palestinian Arab boy by Jewish terrorists. Despite the hate that motivated this crime, hate that went unchecked in large segments of Israeli society for many years, I intended to shine a light on the extraordinary compassion and decency of Rachel Fraenkl, the mother of Naftaly, one of the Israeli murdered teens, who offered heartfelt words of condolence to the family of 16-year-old murdered Palestinian Muhammed Abu Khdeir, saying:
Even in the abyss of mourning for Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem – the shedding of innocent blood in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, of the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.
And the fourth sermon was about my own dread and fear concerning what was to come next in light of the deteriorating relationship between Israel and the Palestinians following the collapse of the Kerry peace initiative and the murders of the four Jewish and Palestinian teens.
Then, Hamas began firing rockets and missiles from Gaza against the Israeli civilian populations in S’derot, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and for the first time, Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Netanyahu did what he had to do. He ordered up 40,000 reserves and began pummeling Hamas missile launch sites and military targets in Gaza with remarkable accuracy, thus successfully destroying hundreds of them with, to date remarkably few civilian causalities.
Israelis are sleeping terrified in shelters just as the bombs falling in Gaza are terrifying the Palestinians living there.
What sermon should I offer today? I am admittedly heart-sick and frightened, enraged and and confused about what to think and what to say.
A friend offered me a way forward. He said, imagine that you have a beloved brother who for the past forty-seven years has been an alcoholic. He’s done some good things, but mostly he’s been self-destructive. His health is bad. You tell him to get sober, but he’s in denial and says he has a right to do with his life whatever he wants.
His life was noble and virtuous in his youth, and his family was proud of him. But now, his addiction has drained his resources and he has been forced to borrow heavily from everyone in the family to support his habit. They love him because he’s family, but so many are furious at him, and he’s lost friends, and his neighbors don’t trust him at all.
One night he’s driving home after drinking heavily and blacks out at the wheel. He runs head-on into a family van and hurts everyone, himself most of all.
You rush to the hospital and see that he is fighting for his life.
What do you do?
Do you support him and say nothing about the cause of it all, his 47-year addiction? Or do you criticize him, walk away and turn your back in disgust?
That is essentially the situation of the Jewish people today. Our brother Israel is fighting for its life, and despite the 47-year occupation of another people, when Israel is under attack, we Jews support her because she is our family and Israel is our national home.
The Biblical prophet had two primary functions when speaking on behalf of God to the people; to preach the moral truth, especially when they had committed sins of injustice, hard-heartedness, and corruption, or to offer comfort in times of suffering and distress.
Now is not the time to rebuke. Now is the time to offer our love and support.
Nachamu nachamu ami yomer Eloheichem,
Dabru al lev Yerushalayim –
“Comfort, oh comfort My People, Says your God –
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…” (Isaiah 40:1-2)
We stand in solidarity with the people and state of Israel as it endures missile attacks by Hamas, and we pray for strength, courage and safety for the Israel Defense Forces as it responds to Hamas’ escalation of hostilities against our people.
We pray for the safety of all our Israeli brothers and sisters and for all innocent Palestinians living in this wretched theater of violence.
And we pray the Psalmist’s prayer:
“Shaalu shalom Yerushalayim – Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6)