Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

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“You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed upon it, except by the blood of him who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I the Eternal abide among the Israelite people.” (Numbers 35.33-34)

A Stain. . . This week as the Book of Numbers draws to a close, we read the foregoing admonition. The murder of a human being not only destroys a life, it leaves a stain upon the very land. The only way to redeem the land from this stain, according to the Bible, was through the blood of the one who spilled it. Thus evolves the cycle of violence and vengeance in ancient Israel; but as well, the organic relationship between the people and their land.

Cold-Blooded Murder. . . For the past few weeks, this beautiful and cherished land has been stained all the way down to its roots. Since the brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers, perpetrated by members of Hamas, and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian teenager by lunatic fringe Jewish extremists, there has been a stain upon the land that has seeped into the souls of all who are here, and which, over the past few weeks, has continued to grow deeper and more pervasive.

Enough. . . The families of these four boys, who are in mourning for their darling sons, all called for compassion and peace – a break in the cycle of violence and retribution. People of good will were hoping against hope that their pleas would be heeded, and the land and all who dwell upon it would have a chance to try to heal and cleanse itself. But it was not to be. The daily and nightly barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza by Hamas, mostly into the cities and villages of the southern Israel, and some reaching deeper and farther across Israel, is unbearable and intolerable.

Missiles and Tunnels. . . As you are no doubt aware, the situation is continuing to deteriorate at this moment. Israel’s mission right now is to locate and destroy hundreds of tunnels throughout Gaza that give Hamas terrorists free reign to enter into Israel on foot, where they could wreak havoc on the ground, in addition to the missile barrage they are unleashing against Israel from the air. A number of these tunnels, some of which were exploded today, lead directly to the kindergartens and dining halls of kibbutzim along the Gaza border. It is a dire situation that must be reversed.

The Cruelty of War. . . With the rising number of Israeli casualties, and the pictures of the dead soldiers now on TV, most of them barely out of their teens, Israelis make it clear that they do not want this war, and they do not want their families or themselves having to fight it. But it is a war that Israel must fight at this moment. One of my teachers at Hartman was expecting a momentary call-up from his unit in the Milluim (Reserves), since a number of them have been called. He is a philosopher. He is 40 years old, with a wife and two young daughters, and is in the middle of writing a book. Hopefully he will not have to report for duty, but it is still not settled ostensibly. But this is what it means to be an Israeli. The Army is family – everyone’s family; everyone’s friend, neighbor, teacher, shopkeeper, and bus driver. In addition, I would make it clear that no one – no one – derives satisfaction or gratification from the deaths of innocent Palestinian women and children. Israel’s war is with Hamas terrorists, who embed themselves within the heart of the civilian population – in schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings. While Israel has sent evacuation notices to the residents of northern Gaza, through leaflets, e-mails, text messages and announcements, Hamas has urged these residents to stay where they are. Hamas does not care about these people. Its aim is to kill Israelis and destroy Israel, and if innocent Gazans are sacrificed in the process, then so be it. The conclusion to virtually every conversation I have had with various Israelis over the past two days has been: “eyn b’reyrah” – we have no choice. The current situation is intractable, and Israel must defend its citizens.

In It Together. . . For those of you who have expressed concern, Steve and I are grateful, and we assure you that we and our colleagues at Hartman are fine, and Jerusalem is quiet. We hope and pray that the diplomatic efforts underway now will result in a ceasefire. It can’t come soon enough. And once the immediate crisis has passed, many Israelis will have to return to considering what they need to do to more thoroughly cleanse the land of the cyclical stains of blood and vengeance. Discussions with the Palestinians will have to continue, of course, and those who engage in violence and terrorism cannot be supported. But for Israelis, there also needs to be profound and significant introspection regarding the values that this land should embody, and the kind of nation that Israel aspires to be. Yes, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood, and Israel must stand firm – and it can. But strength also comes from within, and that will have to be part of the equation as it eventually comes together.

The Dream of the Land. . . “These are the commandments and regulations that the Eternal enjoined upon the Israelites through Moses, on the Steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho.” (Numbers 36.13)

Our ancestors now prepare to enter the Promised Land. What is the promise, and what do we need to do to bring it to fruition? The answer lies within the hearts of our people, and perhaps in the heart of the land itself….