“Mr. Prime Minister – I am ashamed of you” – Rabbi Donniel Hartman

Note: The following is a blog posted today on the Times of Israel site. Rabbi Donniel Hartman is the Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His integrity is beyond reproach and never takes partisan positions. Rather, he speaks from the heart of Jewish tradition and always with thoughtfulness and a moral sensibility. Rabbi Hartman’s letter is written in the spirit of the Biblical prophet who criticizes power when leaders of our people’s morality goes awry.

April 9, 2018, 3:19 pm

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

It’s not easy to be both proud and ashamed at the same time. As a politician, it is particularly difficult, as protecting yourself from constant criticism is a prerequisite of the job.

As prime minister, you have much to be proud of, both personally and nationally. You have navigated our country through perilous times and circumstances. As we approach our 70th birthday, we do so with confidence and joy, for Israel is strong and secure, prosperous and successful. The source of your political success and longevity is that so many Israelis feel indebted to you and feel secure because of your leadership.

However, together with your well-deserved pride, you should also feel a measure of shame. It seems like a lifetime, but it was less than a week ago, that you forged a new low. Instead of embracing the moral high ground on the issue of the African refugees in Israel and following through on what was your negotiated agreement with the United Nations, you chose the path of moral obtuseness, while making sure to lay the blame on others. Such actions, although common in our world, are not worthy of Israel and the Jewish people.

Shame on you for turning human rights discourse in Israel into a political football, dividing the Left and the Right. Shame on you for peddling fear to buttress your political standing. Shame on you for singling out false enemies for vilification to galvanize national loyalty and self-righteousness.

Your morally bankrupt rhetoric, branding all asylum seekers as “infiltrators,” instead of allowing that, at the very least, some are refugees, and supporting the false claims that they pose a danger to the Jewishness of Israel and the well-being of southern Tel Aviv, caught up with you. Or more correctly, infected us all.

When you propagate fear and hatred of so many different “others,” and employ fake enemies to encourage phony nationalist sentiments, it is indeed difficult to turn around and admit that the strong and vibrant Israel you helped to produce has nothing to fear from 16,000, 26,000, or even 36,000 refugees. It is difficult, even during Pesach last week, to speak of our people’s responsibility to remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt.

Fear and hatred are cancerous, and once introduced into the national discourse, have a destructive life of their own. While you have mastered their political use, as we saw last week, they have become your masters.

For the sake of a short-term high as the proclaimed “protector of Israel,” “lover of Jews,” and “the one who cares about the disadvantaged neighborhoods,” you were willing to throw the lives of tens of thousands of human beings into chaos and turmoil and yet again divide the Jewish people. You know that the Supreme Court will challenge any policy of forced expulsion, further weakening it, and will also lead to extensive divisiveness, both within Israel and among the Jewish people.

Tomorrow’s problems, however, are not allowed by you to outweigh a bump in the polls, today. This is doubly true, when tomorrow you, or your coalition partners, can transform the Supreme Court itself into the enemy du jour of Israel and Zionism, and blame all of poor Government of Israel’s problems on all-powerful foreign conspirators, such as the New Israel Fund.

The Bibi of just a few years ago would be ashamed. It was you who in your previous terms served as the ultimate protector of the Supreme Court, the rule of law, and the unity of the Jewish people. In the past, these were values that you held as central to Israel. Today, outside of national security and preserving your coalition, it is difficult to identify anything that you hold as holy.

When you withdrew your support for your resolution, you knew that Friday was but a few days away, and that you could count on Hamas and Gaza to change the focus of our national discourse. You knew that the next car-ramming in Europe or gas attack on innocent civilians in Syria were but a few news cycles away. Who could reasonably criticize you for deporting a few Africans, when our country and soldiers are facing a new threat from Gaza? Who can criticize you as morally wanting, when such moral depravity surrounds us? Only an anti-Semite or an anti-Zionist, of course.

As Israelis we live in a macabre reality. Together with our well-deserved sense of strength, prosperity, and success, we know that danger and instability constantly threaten us. Be it Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranians in Syria, or lone wolf Palestinian terrorists, we live with the ever-present sense that somebody wants to kill us. Someone sees our destruction as their principal mission. I don’t know of any other Western democracy whose citizens have to live with this consciousness, daily. Most Israelis trust you, Mr. Prime Minister, above all others, to help navigate us through this treacherous reality. In truth, much of that trust has been earned and well-deserved.

Israel, however, does not merely have to learn how to survive in the Middle East, but also survive the Middle East itself. Remaining a liberal democracy and a Jewish and democratic state and upholding our commitments to human rights and the Jewish values of peace, justice, freedom, and equality, as outlined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is a challenging task in today’s Middle East. It is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to continue to care. However, after survival, doing precisely that is Israel’s greatest challenge and responsibility.

Israel needs a leader and not merely a politician. A leader provides vision and challenges the people to expend resources for the sake of their values. A leader inspires sacrifice for a greater cause. A leader also experiences shame when they fail in their responsibilities.

There are voices in Israel and in the Jewish world who, after your debacle last week, expressed shame in Israel. I am not ashamed of Israel. Israel and Zionism transcend our political leaders and are not defined even by the current will of the majority. Israel embodies the mission to build a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people which is committed to the noblest of Jewish, moral, and democratic principles. I am not ashamed of Israel, because we are in the middle of Zionism’s journey, a journey undertaken under the most challenging of circumstances.

Mr. Prime Minister, I am not ashamed of Israel. I am ashamed of you.




The Prime Minister’s Attack on the New Israel Fund

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, echoes my concerns and the concerns of anyone who values democracy and human rights and who is well-aware of the enormous good that the New Israel Fund has done on behalf of those in need in Israel. I am printing his statement in full:

“The Prime Minister’s attack on the New Israel Fund is a crossing of a line that we cannot remain silent about and is a critical test for Government of Israel  coalition members who are truly committed to democratic values and to the need for solidarity in Israeli society. The call to form a parliamentary investigative committee instills a sense of witch hunt and McCarthyism into Israeli dialogue, akin to that of crippled democracies and those that lose their way. The discourse and discussion regarding the NIF’s activity is legitimate. Marking the NIF as a subversive organization and the attempt to threaten it, its supporters and its activists – is dangerous and disgraceful. The fact that these acts were done by the Prime Minister, in large part in order to cover up his embarrassing conduct in regards to the annulment of the agreement on the matter of asylum seekers, is a disgrace to the government and its coalition parties. We call upon the heads of all coalition parties and the Members of Knesset of these parties who are committed to the freedom of activity of  Israel’s civic society to sound a clear voice of objection to the Prime Minister’s statements. 

The New Israel Fund is a loyal partner of the Israel Reform Movement in efforts to promote freedom of religion and conscience  among Israeli citizens, in fortifying human rights and promoting social justice. We will not hide this partnership and we will stand by our friends as they become a target for the lowest level of shaming and incitement. The attack on the NIF is a direct attack on Israeli civil society and on the majority of social change organizations in Israel. Now is the time to stand together in a wide coalition and make clear that there are red lines. A dialogue and argument – yes. Incitement and shaming – no. Israeli history will judge the elected officials who choose to remain silent during this time. We are not part of them. We do not hesitate to say to the Prime Minister: there is a limit to incitement! Enough of turning Israelis against one another! Enough of sacrificing Israeli solidarity for political interests! This is not what we expect of you on the eve of Israel’s 70th year of independence!”

Evangelical White Support of Trump

Why do white evangelical Christians who once promoted “family values” and proclaim still the nation’s moral decline continue to support Donald Trump? I have to believe that they see what we see, his pathological aversion to the truth, his sexual improprieties, adultery, misogyny, racism, bigotry, faithlessness, corruption, and incompetence as a leader? Is it only because they want to be certain that the President appoints another conservative nominee like Justice Neal Gorsuch should a vacancy occur on the Supreme Court?

These white evangelicals represent an estimated 40% of the voting electorate, according to a 2016 Pew exit poll. 80% of evangelical Christians voted for Trump. This means that 32% of the roughly 40% that approves of Trump’s presidency are evangelical white Christians.

In Sunday’s New York Times (March 31, 2018) Amy Sullivan wrote (“Democrats are Christians, Too”) that many evangelicals voted for Trump because the Republican Party is now baked into the evangelical community’s DNA following decades of “fearmongering about Democrats and religious liberals.” She explains that white evangelicals supported Trump because they fundamentally disagree with Democrats on the wedge issues of homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Even if they didn’t like Trump personally, they couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.

Sullivan acknowledges that there are many thoughtful “never-Trump” conservatives such as columnist Michael Gerson who wrote in The Atlantic that Trump is “blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents…[that] little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness…[that Trump is] deeply and defiantly ignorant,” that he “suffers from serious moral impairment and is dangerously unqualified.” (“The Last Temptation” – https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/)

But might there be another reason that evangelical whites stick with Trump – “The Rapture?”

The “Rapture” is the belief that in the end of days after a final cataclysmic battle led by the Antichrist and engulfing the world, believers in Jesus Christ (both the dead and the living) suddenly will be resurrected and will meet their Lord in the air, all before the time of God’s wrath. This end-time will be characterized by famine, earthquakes, an epidemic of new diseases, dissention in society and between nations, and war – a time of chaotic misery from which the people will crave delivery and a savior.

Everything Trump does makes this country and the world less safe including his withdrawal from international agreements, his bellicose talk against North Korea, his love-affair with Vladimir Putin, his divide and conquer strategy pitting whites against peoples of color, his cozying up to alt-right fanatics and neo-Nazis, his attacks on non-white immigrants, and his constant delegitimization of the media and the institutions of our democracy. All may be understood by evangelical white Christians as preparing the ground for a cataclysmic event that will usher in the end-of-days “Rapture” followed by the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Evangelicals don’t talk about this, but “The Rapture” is fundamental to their evangelical Christian theology and is the only explanation that seems to justify why these people stick by this immoral president.







A Celebration of Love

The world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

So said Rabbi Akiva (2nd century Palestine), who understood that The Song of Songs is an allegory between two lovers, God and Israel.

The Kabbalistic tradition teaches that the love in the Song reflects higher events inside God’s metaphysical structure. It is read each year on the Shabbat during Pesach, and we at Temple Israel of Hollywood will celebrate the Song of Songs and our community’s milestone wedding anniversaries this Friday evening, April 6 at 6:30 PM in our Shabbat services.

Shelly Fox, our Director of Music and Cantorial Soloist, with our quartet and pianist Michael Alfera will present some of the most beautiful musical settings for the Song of Songs. Many of the melodies were composed in pre-statehood Palestine.

Our milestone wedding couples (celebrating 5 to 65 years of marriage will read love poetry.

If you live in Los Angeles, come and celebrate with us.

From the Song of Songs

O for your kiss! For your love / More enticing than wine, / For your scent and sweet name -– / For all this they love you. /

Take me away to your room, / Like a king to his rooms — / We’ll rejoice there with wine. / No wonder they love you! /


Like a mare among stallions, / You lure, I am held /

            Your cheeks framed with braids / your neck traced with shells /

I’ll adorn you with gold / And with silver bells“


How fine / you are, my love, / your eyes / like doves’. /

How fine / are you, my lover, / what joy / we have together. /

How green / our bed of leaves, / our rafters of cedars, / our juniper eaves./


Marcia Falk, The Song of Songs – Love Poems from the Bible (New York & London: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1977). Pages 1, 4, 6.

Moadim L’simchah!







Good news on Eritrean and Sudanese Refugees in Israel

This is a report from the Hotline for Refugees in Israel regarding the recent positive decision of the Israeli government vis a vis the Sudanese and Eritrean Refugees in Israel.


Human Rights Organizations in Israel in response to the cancellation of the deportation plan

It is symbolic that on the Passover holiday, the holiday of freedom, we were just informed that the State of Israel has cancelled their plan to forcibly deport asylum seekers from Israel to places of danger in Africa. Instead, the government has reached an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) under which 16,000 asylum seekers will be resettled through the UNHCR to safe countries, and 16,000 will be able to stay in Israel.

We will closely monitor the agreement signed to ensure that all asylum seekers receive status, rights and security in both Israel and other countries.

This could not have happened without the incredible mobilization of the Israeli and international public who joined us in voicing opposition to the deportation. We called for just solutions for asylum seekers and for the residents of South Tel Aviv, and the government heard us loud and clear.

However, it is regrettable that whilst the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, Israel has not taken more responsibility for those who turned to us and sought protection here.

Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Kav LaOved, Amnesty International – Israel, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and ARDC – African Refugee Development Center

Three poems for Seder Musings

“Not with a strong hand / And not with an outstretched arm / And not with great awe / And not with signs / And not with wonders / Rather hesitantly, with small steps, terrified by darkness / Softly / Dedicated / Purposefully / with accuracy / And love / Carrying little signs like the wrinkles of passing time, / The transition of seasons, my changing body, the pearls of my longings. Getting out of Egypt (Exodus)

—- by Hagit Ackerman


Reflections on Seder night, Mah nishtanah, we asked, / “How is this night different from all other nights”  / ”How changed?” Most of us are grown up now and have stopped asking, but some / go on asking all their lives, the way one asks / How are you, or what time is it, and keep on walking / without waiting for an answer. Mah nishtanah kol Layla, “How changed is every night,” / Like an alarm clock whose ticking is soothing and soporific. / Mah nishtanah, ha-kol yishtaneh, “What has changed, all shall be changed.” Change is God. / Reflections on Seder night. Of four children does the Torah speak: one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who knows / not how to ask. But nothing is said there / about a good one, or a loving one. / And that’s a question that has no answer, / and if there were an answer I wouldn’t want to know. / I who have passed through all the phases of the children / in their changing constellations, I’ve lived my life, the moon shed its light / on me for no reason, the sun went on its way, the Passovers / passed without an answer. Mah nishtanah. “What has changed?” Change is God, Death is his prophet.

—- by Yehuda Amichai (Translation: Channah Bloch and Chana Kornfeld)


Look around me now / I can see my life before me / Running rings around the way / It used to be

I am older now / I have more than what I wanted / But I wish that I had started Long before I did

And there’s so much time to make up / Everywhere you turn / Time we have wasted on the way

So much water moving / Underneath the bridge / Let the water come and carry us away

Oh when you were young / did you question all the answers / did you envy all the dancers / Who had all the nerve

Look round you now / You must go for what you wanted / Look at all my friends who did / And got what they deserved

And there’s so much love to make up / Everywhere you turn / Love we have wasted on the way

So much water moving / Underneath the bridge / Let the water come and carry us away

—-Graham Nash

Believing in Miracles

When I think about God splitting of the sea I’m reminded of the story of Joey who when asked by his father what he learned in Sunday school explained that Israeli engineers laid pontoons across the sea so that the Israelis could cross over safely, attack the Egyptian army and win the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Then Joey told his father that the same Israelis snuck back and laid charges under the bridges so that as the Egyptians crossed the bridges, they exploded and the Egyptians drowned.

Joey’s father said: “You didn’t learn that in Sunday school?”

Joey confessed: “No Dad, but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what my teacher really told us.”

To children and adults alike, the parting of the Sea of Reeds in the Exodus story is incredulous. What to make of it as it defies reason? Wouldn’t a more relevant liberation story be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Kings “I Have a Dream” speech, Natan Sharansky’s address to the sentencing Soviet court, or Israel’s Declaration of Independence?

The Kotzker Rebbe said: “Whoever believes in miracles is a fool; and whoever does not believe in miracles is an atheist.” Is there no middle ground?

How ought we to read the Exodus text?

Here’s another way.

Nachshon ben Aminadav, a little known figure in the Exodus story, took matters into his own hands and as the Egyptians advanced and Moses prayed Nachshon jumped into the waters and started swimming. The Midrash says that Moses’ faith and Nachshon’s activism persuaded God to split the sea.

I’m reminded of the story of the man caught in a flood. While standing on his roof he prayed that God would save him. In the next hour 3 helicopters and 3 boats arrived but he refused them all claiming that he’d rather wait for God to save him. When the flood waters engulfed him he complained bitterly to the Almighty: “I’ve been a good man my whole life, but when I prayed to You to save me, you ignored my plea!”

Nebesh!” God screamed, “I sent you 3 helicopters and 3 boats. Next time, help yourself?”

So – what’s a miracle? Philosophers answer the question in the negative; what isn’t a miracle? Judaism teaches that a miracle isn’t the radical transformation of the natural world. Divine wisdom and goodness lie not in rupturing God’s reign of universal law, but in the reliability of the steady order of the world.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis put it this way: “Faith isn’t dependent on miracles….miracles depend on faith. And faith, far from blind, sees life’s deeper truths.”

However defined, no miracle without faith is possible. Rabbi Abraham Heschel noted that a miracle has less to do with great historical peak events as it does in our consciousness of what lies before us at all times: “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the Divine margin in all attainments.”

Rabbi Akiba was challenged by the pagan Tineus Rufus: “Whose deeds are greater, those of God or humankind?”

Akiba replied: “Greater are human deeds.”

The pagan asked how he could make such a claim.

Akiba brought sheaves of wheat and loaves of cakes and asked, “Which are superior?” The great sage answered his own question: the loaves of cakes excel because they required a human being to take the wheat and make something life-sustaining.

The lesson of the Sea of Reeds isn’t in the splitting of the Sea. It’s in our conscientious capacity to take action and transform the world.

As we prepare Pesach this week, our nation’s teens marching for reasonable gun control this past week is a great example of how we humans can transform ourselves and our world.

THAT is a miracle.

Chag Pesach Sameach!



Pesach is coming – It’s time to ask the big questions!

To be curious is the first quality of the wise. Wise people know that they do not know and they learn something from everyone they meet (Avot 5:1).

The Passover Seder will soon be upon us, and there is much about the Seder itself that is a mystery. Nothing is as it seems. Everything stands for something else. Deeper truths are there for the seeker. Everything in the Seder suggests questions.

I have compiled a list of questions that might be sent in advance to your Seder participants or asked around the table during the Seder itself. These aren’t exhaustive. Add your own questions.

As no marathon runner would show up at the starting line without preparation and training, neither should we show up at our Seder tables without thinking seriously in advance about the themes and truths of this season. Now is the time to begin the questioning and probing.

Afikoman – When we break the Matzah

Questions: What part of us is broken? What work do we need to do to effect tikun hanefesh – i.e. restoration of ourselves? What t’shuvah – i.e. return, realignment of our lives, re-establishment of important relationships – do we need to perform to bring about wholeness? What’s broken in the world – i.e. what remains unfair, unjust, unresolved, in need of our loving care and attention – and what am I/are we going to do about it?

Mah Nishtanah – How is this night different from all other nights?

Questions: How am I different this year from previous years? What has changed in my life this year, for better and/or for worse? What ‘silver lining’ can I find in my disappointments, frustrations, loss, illness, pain, and suffering? What conditions in our communities, nation and world have worsened since last we sat down for the Pesach meal?

Ha-Chacham – The Wise Child

Questions: Who inspired you this past year to learn? Who has been your greatest teacher and why? What are the lessons you have learned from others that have touched you most in the year gone by?

Ha-Rasha – The Evil Child

Questions: Since Judaism teaches that the first step leading to evil is taken when we separate ourselves from the Jewish community and refuse to participate in acts that help to restore justice in the world, have we individually stepped away from activism? Have we become overcome by cynicism and despair? Do we believe that people and society succumb inevitably to the worst qualities in the human condition, or do we retain hope that there can be a more just and compassionate world? Are we optimistic or pessimistic? Do we believe that people and society can change for the better? Are we doing something to further good works, or have we turned away into ourselves alone and given up?

Cheirut – Thoughts about Freedom

Questions: If fear is an impediment to freedom, what frightens me? What frightens the people I love? What frightens the Jewish people? Are our fears justified, or are they remnants of experiences in our individual and/or people’s past? Do they still apply? Are we tied to the horrors of our individual and communal traumas, or have we broken free from them? What are legitimate fears and how must we confront them?

Tzafun – The Hidden Matzah

Questions: What have we kept hidden in our lives from others? Are our deepest secrets left well-enough alone, or should we share them with the people closest to us? To what degree are we willing to be vulnerable? Have we discovered the hidden presence of God? Have we allowed ourselves to be surprised and open to wonder and awe? If so, how has such recognition changed us?

Sh’fach et chamat’cha – Pour out your Wrath

Questions: Is there a place for hatred, anger and resentment in our Seder this year? How have these negative emotions affected our relationships with each other, the Jewish community, the Jewish people, the Palestinians, the State of Israel, with any “other”? Have we become our own worst enemy because we harbor hatred, anger and resentment? Do the Seder themes and symbolism address our deeply seated anger, hatred and resentment?

Ba-shanah Ha-ba-ah Bi-y’ru-shalayim – Next Year in Jerusalem

Questions: What are your hopes and dreams for yourself, our community, country, the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the world? What are you prepared to do in the next year to make real your hopes and dreams?

Campaign for Religious Equality in Israel

“We are doing great things at Kehilat Mevaseret Zion with families, adults, social justice work, and building community, but we receive no funding from the Israeli government, as opposed to orthodox synagogues one of which is just down the street from us and is fully funded because it is orthodox.” So said Rabbi Alona Nir Keren of Kehilat Mevaseret Tzion, a Reform synagogue community in the Judean Hills just down the road from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Nir Keren joined with four other Israeli Reform Rabbis on a stage on Monday night at the 129th annual meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Long Beach, CA. She was part of a panel discussing the vitality and challenges of the Israeli Reform movement.

She was joined by Rabbi Chen Or Tsfoni of Kehilat Raanana, Rabbi Yoki Amir, Professor of Jewish History and Philosophy at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Rabbi Nava Hefetz, the Director of Education for Rabbis for Human Rights-Israel, and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the CEO and President of the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Kariv spoke about the growing influence of Israel’s Reform movement in Israel as a whole. He noted that 800,000 Israelis have attended in recent years weddings, b’nai mitzvah celebrations, britot milah, baby namings, and funerals conducted by our 100 Israeli Reform Rabbis. Israelis are not only taking notice of the Israeli Reform movement, they are joining Reform synagogues. Taken together (according to a recent poll), the Reform and Conservative movements attract 11% of the Israeli population, equal to the 11% of the Israeli population that are ultra-Orthodox Haredim.

Rabbi David Stern, President of the CCAR, questioned these rabbis on a wide range of issues including human rights, religious pluralism in the state, the impact of Reform Judaism on Israeli culture, the spiritual and educational needs of Israelis young and old, liberal religious practice in Israel, and the reasons so many secular Israelis are attracted to the Reform movement.

Rabbi Hefetz told of her work in human rights with the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. Rabbi Or Tsafoni, the daughter of Iraqi immigrants, shared her experience growing up in Israel as a child of immigrants from a Muslim country. Rabbi Kariv reviewed the wide range of issues that the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center is actively confronting on a daily basis in the Knesset and in courts of law.

The evening was sponsored by the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), and as the Chair of the national Board, I had an opportunity to thank our Israeli colleagues for the important work they are doing and to present the “Campaign for Religious Equality” that ARZA and the Union for Reform Judaism began several months ago at the URJ Biennial Convention in Boston attended by 5000 delegates from Reform synagogues around the world.

We are asking every Reform synagogue in North America (now numbering more than 900 communities) to contribute $3600 each as we prepare to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary in May. The money we raise will go directly to our Israeli Reform movement to support our Israeli synagogue communities (which receive no financial support from the Israeli government), our legal and lobbying efforts on behalf of religious pluralism, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, against racism and bigotry, and to conduct a massive public relations campaign to promote Reform Judaism in Israel with the intent to draw more Israelis to liberal progressive Judaism.

For North American congregations that would like to contribute $3600, please see ARZA’s website – www.arza.org .

Moses and God’s Tears – A Poetic Midrash for Vayikra

So often God called Moses. / Three times they met / at the flaming bush / on Sinai and before the Tent of Meeting / that Moses might intuit God’s mind / and soothe God’s heart / as a lover comforts his beloved.

Since creation / God yearned to bridge the chasm / when the Creator pulled away / and opened space / to share the universe.

Yet the Almighty remained alone / exiled within the Divine Self / when the vessels shattered / and matter was flung to the far reaches of the universe.

The upper spheres were divorced from the lower / male from female / the primal Father from the primal Mother / Tiferet from Malchut / Hakadosh Baruch Hu from Shechinah / Adonai from K’nesset Yisrael.

Before time and speech / God appointed the soul of the Shepherd-Prince Moses / to be prophet / and endowed him with hearing-sight / wide-ranging wisdom and intuitive knowledge.

No one but Moses / had ever been so chosen or / to come so near to God.

Moses saw with his ears / heard with his eyes / tasted with his mind / and remained whole in the Light.

The prophet descended the mountain aglow / the primordial Light shielding him behind a veil / bearing on his forehead divine ink-drops / illuminating the earth’s four corners.

Moses descended upon angel’s wings / weightless and cradling the lettered-stone / inside the eye of raging winds.

Though a Prince in Egypt / Moses’ destiny was as a lonely shepherd / gathering sheep / and drawing the children of Israel to God.

God needed much from Moses / to bring the plagues / and show that there is no God but God / and liberate the people / and bring them to Sinai / and inspire with the Word / and create God’s house / that light might abide within every heart / and restore wholeness in the world.

After all of God’s expectations and demands / we might expect Moses’ strength to be depleted / to be exhausted to the bone and ready to say / “Enough! O Redeemer – find a new prophet / I can no longer bear the burden / and be Your voice and create bridges / You are Almighty God / I am but flesh / My strength is gone / My time expired!”

“Nonsense!” proclaimed the Eternal / “I am not yet ready for your retirement! / My world remains shattered / My light obscured / my heart aching / I need you to teach My people / and all people / instill in their hearts / a love that heals My wound / for I cannot do this for Myself.”

Alas, the Creator-Redeemer’s needs were clear / to be close to Moses and the people / that the prophet and Israel together / might wipe away God’s tears / and restore God’s heart to wholeness / and heal God’s Name to Itself / and bring peace.

Poem composed by Rabbi John L. Rosove

Notes about this poetic Midrash:

The first word that appears in this week’s Torah portion Vayikra (vav – yud – kuf – resh – aleph – “And God called Moses…”) ends with an unusually small aleph. This anomaly in what is called the k’tiv (written text) gave rise to much rabbinic interpretation over the centuries.

Rashi explained that the small aleph teaches the humility of Moses. Others said that the aleph is an introduction to the Levitical laws of sacrifice, which requires humility. A Midrash suggests that when Moses descended from Mount Sinai carrying the tablets of the law, he emitted a keren or (“a ray of light”) compelling Moses to shield his face with a veil because the people could not look upon him in such a state. The source of that ray of light was divine ink left over when Moses wrote a small aleph instead of one of normal size. The Midrash explains that Moses had sought to lessen his own stature by using a small aleph, but God restored the extra drops of divine ink by placing them upon Moses’ forehead.

The Midrashic literature comments at length about Moses’ experience meeting panim el panim (lit. “face to face” – metaphorically “soul to soul”) with God. Moses was first among God’s prophets. Though each prophet spoke God’s words, there never was another prophet like Moses nor, as the Torah explains, was there ever again a more humble human being on earth than Moses.

It is my fascination with prophecy that inspired me to write this poetic Midrash.

For those of you wishing more insight into Biblical prophecy, I recommend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Prophets” – publ. Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1962.

Shabbat shalom.