Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dibbat Haaretz

My Rabbi, due to many requests emailed his last sermon to the entire congregation...I thought folks might want to read it.....


Today’s Torah portion is well known by many of us. Twelve scouts were sent out by Moshe to tour the Land of Israel and return with their assessment of the land and the people who lived there. Ten of them came back and spoke what the Torah called dibbat haaretz – a lot of negative talk about what they saw in Israel. True that they saw that the land was good – but nonetheless their conclusion was negative. They advised putting off entering into the land – preferring to emphasize their fears and concerns. And the message of the other two scouts, Joshua and Caleb – who were positive about the land, who were inspired by what they had seen and prepared for the many challenges they would face in conquering the Land of Israel – their message was lost amidst all the negativity of the other ten scouts.

In a week in which over 200 nations have condemned the State of Israel – we can say that not since the time when the ten scouts returned to Moshe have we heard such negative things spoken about Israel as we did over the last few days. At least the ten scouts had seen some good in Israel – what we heard this week was a worldwide chorus of orchestrated condemnation, sanctimonious criticism and misplaced scorn.

Frances’s President Nicholas Sarkozy criticized the “disproportionate use of force.” Turkey’s Prime Minister called the incident “state terrorism.” His Foreign Minister described it as “barbarism.” Also using the term “barbarism” were the Saudi Arabians. Syria charged Israel with a “blatant defiance of civilized values.” Italy’s Foreign Undersecretary referred to the incident as “the massacre of Gaza.” Russia condemned “the use of force against civilians.” President Ahmadinejad chimed in and said, “Israel added another shameful chapter in its long history of blatant disregard of international law.”

Listening to their words I was reminded of a Hasidic story which tells of the people in a particular town who were eating grain products which made them insane. The king and one of his advisors held out for as long as they possibly could – they did not want to consume the grain knowing what would happen to them. Eventually they realized that they too would have to eat. So their solution was that before they would consume the grain products they would make a mark on each other’s forehead which would help the two of them to remember that they are insane. Listening to the disproportionate condemnation of Israel from the likes of Russia, Iran, Syria and others – one has to wonder if they have any understanding about just how insane they are in singling out Israel for their harsh condemnation.

For those who love Israel it has been a painful week. For those who believe in Israel - who see the good, the remarkable good in Israel – it has been painful to listen to the unrelenting condemnations – and to watch Israel become increasingly isolated. No other democratic nation in the history of the world has faced the challenges Israel has in trying to survive. I wonder which nation could have endured what Israel has over these decades and respond with a greater commitment to the ethical treatment of one’s enemies?

\It is clear to me that we have a moment in history which must be understood. Overwhelmingly the nations of the world would prefer a world without Israel. The world has grown tired of Israel’s struggle to exist, tired of the way they believe Israel has made the world more complicated than it needs to be. It is so clear that a large portion of the world community has become convinced that the world would be a better place, a simpler place, without Israel. A large portion of the world community wants Israel as we know it today to disappear. As Charles Krauthamer wrote this week, “The world has grown tired of these troublesome Jews refusing every invitation to national suicide.”

And so for those of us stung by the condemnations of nation after nation – I share with you the words of my colleague, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who wrote this week that, “Their condemnation is preferable to Israel’s annihilation.” Israel will never be moral enough to justify its existence to the vast majority of the world. It will never be moral enough to meet the “high ethical standards” of the nations which rush to judge her. They see nothing good in Israel – every response of Israel to the existential threats to its existence is labeled a crime – and nations which long ago lost the moral right to judge anyone now throw the first stones. Their condemnation of Israel is without end – but Rabbi Gordis was so correct – their condemnation is preferable to Israel’s annihilation.

It is too easy to question the morality of the blockade of Gaza when you live in London or Paris or New York or Rome. How convenient to minimize what are the impossible realities of trying to exist with a Hamas state on your border. End the blockade, the world demands. The world community would like Israel to embrace a moral standard for the treatment of an enemy state that no nation in this world would ever, could ever, or should ever accept. Let’s be clear – the blockade would end today if Hamas would recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence. The blockade exists because Hamas is working overtime to rearm itself to initiate the next round of lethal attacks on the citizens of Israel. The threat of Hamas is not hypothetical – it is real and it cannot be wished away. Israel’s moral responsibility to its own citizens is to minimize that threat. And Israel has done so over the years accepting its humanitarian responsibility to make certain at the same time that food and medical supplies are available to the people of Gaza.

The loss of life is tragic and once again the Israel Defense Forces initiated a military operation purposely designed to absolutely minimize the loss of life. We all know that Israeli authorities urged the flotilla to dock in the port city of Ashdod and to unload their cargo there. Israel promised that truly humanitarian goods would be delivered to Gaza and it intended to stand by that promise. But because the real intention of those participating in this flotilla was to break the blockade and open up a shipping lane which would allow anything and everythingto be brought into Gaza – including heavy weapons, missiles and rockets at some point in the future – some chose to provoke a confrontation with Israel.

I listened to the words of the commander of the commandos as he spoke to them before they left on their mission. His instructions were clear. His commandos were to show absolute restraint. He said to them that they will face every provocation once they board the boat. He told them that the people on board would spit at you, curse at you and throw lit cigarettes at you, and he ordered, take it all, don’t shoot. He did not imagine – nor could he imagine – that the so-called humanitarians would savagely attack the commandos. By now we have seen the pictures of the bloodied commandos who were beaten, stabbed and shot at. For 40 minutes the Israelis did not fire a shot – not a single round was fired – because their orders were to hold fire so that there would not be a loss of life. Only when the commandos became convinced that “the humanitarians and activists” were intent on killing them – because that’s what some humanitarians do – did they finally open fire. Any other army in the world would have used their guns much sooner and would have been justified for doing so.

By what right do these people call themselves humanitarians? We know that many of them were far from humanitarians – a significant number had close ties with jihadist organizations. By what right do these people call themselves humanitarians – they who refused to deliver a note to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas for four years? These humanitarians turned down a request from Gilad’s parents to deliver a letter to their son. God save us from such humanitarians. What, I wonder, is so humanitarian about strengthening the grip of Hamas on the people of Gaza? What is humanitarian about reinforcing the power of such a harsh and brutal regime? And for those who wish to condemn blockades – condemn then the blockade that Hamas put in place which has made it impossible for the International Red Cross to visit Gilad Shalit for all these years that he has been held in prison.

Many of these “humanitarians” came hoping to become martyrs and they created the conditions which saw their dreams come true. The world community which has abandoned all reasons and which refers to them as “ humanitarians and activists” - absolves them of all wrongdoing. It is, therefore, understandable that in Thursday’s New York Times Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote, “Israel’s geographic vulnerability means that we do not the luxury of caving into the world’s condemnation. We will have to gird ourselves for the long, dangerous and lonely road ahead – hoping that what ultimately prevails will not be what is momentarily popular – but what is just.”

For Israel it is a lonely road – ia dangerous and lonely road – but Israel is not on that road by itself – we cannot allow Israel to stand alone. I think of words we just recited in the prayer for the new month. We said, chaverim kol Yisrael – all Israel is one fellowship – and if that is true – and I believe with all my heart that it is – we do travel that same lonely, dangerous road with the people of Israel. We travel it together. There is a

a young boy who lives in Los Angeles who understands this very well. This week this one young man – a high school student – heard there was going to be a protest against Israel in Los Angeles. He went to that protest carrying the flag of Israel. And there he was walking, proudly holding high the flag of Israel – taking the taunts, the threats and the curses of hundreds, but not backing down. One young Jewish high school student holding proudly the flag of Israel as hundreds of protesters yelled at him, screamed at him – called for the destruction of Israel – and told this young boy to go back to Auschwitz.

We’ve been to Auschwitz and we are not returning. We’ve been there and now we understand how many there are who would want us to return. “Go back to Auschwitz” has become the rallying cry for those who hate Israel and the Jewish people. Those in Israel who invited the ships in the flotilla to dock in Ashdod were told as well, “Go back to Auschwitz.” It is inconceivable – but these are the words being hurled at Jews in Los Angeles, in Florida, in New York and off the coast of the Gaza Strip. It is understandable, therefore, that one member of our congregation came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Rabbi, I’ve been crying all week, I’ve lived through this once before and I’m worried.”

Our Siddur tells us this morning that God is the One who “wakes those who are sleeping and stirs those who slumber.” We have been sleeping – sleeping too long – and while we have a whole new reality has dawned upon us. We have taken far too much for granted – we have assumed that Israel and the Jewish people didn’t need our commitment – our support – our strength – our involvement. The events of this week should have finally awakened those who were sleeping within the Jewish community – and so I issue this call to action. Time and again I have urged our engagement – our involvement – in supporting the State of Israel – and all I can hope is that you can hear me now.

We must be like Joshua and Caleb – the two scouts who came back long ago with a good report about the land, who saw what was wonderful and beautiful about the Land of Israel – and who urged the people to engage in the struggle to challenge, the conquer it. They knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk – they knew it wasn’t going to be easy – and so they asked the people of Israel to be courageous enough to face the challenges ahead. We need to be like Joshua and Caleb – part of a small, ever-diminishing minority, who see what is good in the Land of Israel – speak about it and commit ourselves to it. And we must hope and pray that at the end of this long, lonely and dangerous journey that the truth will prevail and the State of Israel will prevail. As the psalmist said, Dear God, give strength to your people – not just the people of Israel – but the Jewish people – so that we can stand together and then one day bless us with the peace we so fervently desire.

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Dunking Rachael

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