We all know the story. Moses comes down from the mountain with the Tablets of the Law. But as he approaches the ground he hears the raucousness and sees the revelry. In a fit of anger he hurls the tablets to the ground and smashes them upon the Israelites. The Israelites had become disillusioned with Moses, and he in turn becomes disillusioned with them. They have given up on each other.
This week I am in Jerusalem for the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Each year we meet in a different American city, but every seventh year we convene in Israel. This is our year. There are more than 300 Reform rabbis here: from the United States, Canada, and Israel, the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and Australia. I will tell you more on a different occasion. For now, I particularly want to share with you the remarkable afternoon I spent today at YOZMA, the Reform congregation in the city of Modi’in, where my good friend Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon is the Rabbi. In addition to Rabbi Shiryon, Rabbi Miri Gold from Kehilat Birkat Shalom at Kibbutz Gezer, also a good friend of mine, and also Student Rabbi Yael Karrie from Kibbutz Nahal Oz in Sha’ar Hanegev, where Steve and I will be spending Shabbat, led the discussion. The discussion focused on the efforts of these remarkable women and their congregants to effect partnerships with Arab and Christian Israelis. We sat listening to several groups of women who get together regularly to form partnerships of mutual support and friendship. They made it clear: all they want to do is live together in peace as human beings. In addition, the group in particular from Sha’ar Hanegev includes both men and women. As we sat and listened to these lovely people, it became clear that except for the obvious ethnic differences, they are the same as us; the same as anyone; they are ordinary people, with families and aspirations, who simply want to live in security and peace, and in friendship with their neighbors, who share this land with them.
The utopian dream that motivated the early Zionists has been shattered by war and occupation. The tablets have been smashed, and disillusionment has set in almost universally. But remember the rest of the story in our Sidra. After Moses has broken the tablets, God commands him to carve two new ones, and to bring them back up to Mount Sinai to be re-inscribed. It is understandable that many people, both Israelis and those around the world, may feel great anger and frustration at the ongoing stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians, and all the manifold complications of that conflict. Nevertheless, today I saw living proof that the disappointment of unattainable perfection does not have to condemn us to endless anger and hate-mongering. We can re-carve the tablets and rewrite the narrative. My colleagues and I spent this afternoon with people in Israel who are determined not to sacrifice their lives to disillusionment and hopelessness. While global problems remain, they have taken their personal lives and their own emotional wellbeing into their own hands, by extending their hands to those different from themselves in some ways, and in some ways, exactly the same. There are some in this world who would choose to cast each other out as enemies. These women and men have chosen instead to embrace one another as friends. Lu yihi – may it be.