Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Bamidbar

As I pay attention to the news from the Middle East, I have to fight off some depression and frustration. I have been blessed to co-lead and lead two Interfaith clergy trips to Israel on behalf of our Heart of New Jersey Jewish Federation. The goal of each trip is to help Rabbis, Ministers, Priests, and Imams passed the headlines of the US or European news opening for each a more hands-on and personal immersion into what is really happening there. The result of each trip is the same. In fact, we now call it the “It’s Complicated” tour. Both sides experience pain. Both sides perpetrate and perpetuate the violence. It is, at its very core, complicated, even while people all over the world pick one side or the other (even chastising those who do not). Picking sides ignore reality. It is complicated, and please remember that perception is truth. I am called a flaming liberal by many because I understand that each side has a truth that they hold dear and sacred. Based in fact or not, it is their “truth,” and the only way to combat it is with respectful engagement, not warfare.
I hold strong beliefs that hold many people accountable, including and especially the so many people around the world who pick sides without thorough investigations. I can make arguments calling attention to Israel’s abusive policies. I can equally demonstrate the violent intentions of Hamas. I can show where Israel withholds necessary humanitarian aid and services to Palestinians and also how Gazan schools teach third graders to kill Israelis and Jews. I have been shot out of olive groves by Israeli settlers, standing with Palestinian farmers who had held that land for generations before there was an Israeli state. I have stood, shaking in a tunnel from Gaza into the backyard of an Israeli family who had experienced a thwarted kidnapping, and hidden in S’derot when Iron Dome intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza. Human lives are at stake and the world postures politically.
The current violence at the border is not about the embassy, it is about an overzealous blockade, though Egypt maintains the same blockade, but there is no attempt to breach it. It is a commemoration of Nakba, the Palestinian belief that they were robbed of their homeland. If it were all about the blockade, there would be fighting at the Egypt border, as well.
Here are important articles to read. There are many more, but here is a sampling. I pray it helps us communicate and not posture, for this situation is … complicated:
Perhaps the most thoughtful piece to share is one that speaks to my heart, but Rabbi Donniel Hartman often does:
Enter this week’s Torah portion: Bamidbar – In the Wilderness. I wander lost in this wilderness. I do not know how to save lives, fix misperceptions on both sides or keep people from posturing on one side or the other. Israel must be held accountable. Hamas must be held accountable. And, yes, even the United States must be held accountable. From the Nobel Prize that went to President Clinton for a promise of peace that he could not deliver, to President Obama and President Trump’s choices to ignore Gaza and along with it, many Palestinian human rights matters.
In studying this week, though, I do hold on to hope, because also tied into this week’s portion and celebration for they detail two most important lessons for humanity. First, with the taking of the census, we must become aware that people matter, not just as a group, but as individuals. The war may be between Hamas and Israel, but human lives are at stake, and each is sacred. Secondly, this weekend is Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). According to tradition, the people receive the Torah on this holiday. They do not receive it in Israel, though. God reveals Torah at Sinai, in the middle of the wilderness: a land no one owns. Why? Torah is a universal truth. Its command to love and its respect for humanity is not the teaching of one religion; it is a core sacred value of every religion. Torah’s command inures to each of our benefit and obligates each of our souls, and every voice that would lord one of over another is nothing short of blasphemy.
From Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart.” Torah’s most profound and sacred lesson of faith is that this universal grace, the grace due to each of God’s created souls, is sacred for everyone with whom we meet. Shabbat Shalom.