IN MEMORY AND IN HOPE
This morning, I will begin by speaking about Abraham. Then, I will reflect on the memory of another critical figure in our history.
Earlier this morning, during the shacharit service, we sang together the paragraph before the recitation of the Sh’ma, Ahava Rabba and in that paragraph, we read these words: lillmod ulilamed, lishmor v’laasot. We commit ourselves lilmod, to learn, lilamed, to teach, lishmor v’laasot and I’ll treat these as one concept, to observe the commandments and do them.
Learning, Teaching and Doing.
Learning: Observing and coming to a conclusion, Teaching: Sharing that conclusion with others and Doing: making a practical difference in the world by bringing the lessons learned and taught into practice.
There are three midrashim in Bereshit Rabbah which portray Abraham as following this process of learning, teaching and doing.
The first midrash has Rabbi Yitzchak telling a story that Abraham was like a man traveling from place to place when he sees a building in flames. He says: “Is it possible that the building lacks a person to look after it?”
The owner of the building looks out and says: “I am the owner of the building”
Similarly, Abraham looks out and sees a world in flames from idolatry and hatred and responding to the urging of the owner of the world, God, resolves to dedicate his life to putting out the fire.
Abraham has learned.
The second midrash begins with a verse from Song of Songs: lirayach shimanecha hatovim, “Your ointments have a beautiful scent”. This midrash compares Abraham to a sealed vial of perfume lying in a corner. Until Abraham traveled following God’s command of Lech Lecha, the perfume of his commitment to influencing the world was sealed. Now, it is spread throughout the world as Abraham travels from place to place and influences all of those around him.
Finally, in the third midrash, the verse quoted is also from Song of Songs: Achot lanu kitana, “We have a little sister”. In this case the Midrash offers a pun on the word, achot, sister and says Abraham ichah, united, the world through changes that his teaching has brought.
Abraham has done.
Learning, Teaching and Doing. Observing the world, sharing your perspective and leading the world to real change.
Tonight, we observe the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, zichrono livracha.
Yitzchak Rabin was shot after speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, a mass rally in favor of negotiating a “two state solution” to end the conflict with the Palestinians.
That Rabin was at that rally at all and that he sang the passionate peace song Shir LaShalom which said that peace can’t just be a dream but needs to come now, are evidence of his reading of the political reality of the time. But it also was evidence of this same process that Abraham, lihavdeel, followed: learning, teaching and doing.
After many years of leading Israel on the battlefield, Rabin saw the flames and concluded that he needed to lead his people in a different direction. So, he made difficult choices, including shaking hands with Yassir Arafat and speaking at this rally in order to influence more people given what he had learned: the reality of the need for such a peace agreement.
Of course, he- and Israel- never reached the third stage, doing, changing the world as the Midrash tells us that Abraham did. Rabin was tragically shot before he could continue his work and those who followed and tried to take this same path failed to make his stated dream of peace come true. The fault for the failures lies in so many factors, obviously not all Israel’s responsibility as we know that the Palestinians rejected many ideas for moving forward, but regardless, it never happened. And, we are all left to ponder, 27 years later: “What is the status of Rabin’s dream?”
There were many then and clearly the majority now within Israel who, while loudly and clearly condemning the act of the assassin, did not or do not today support the idea of the two-state solution, thinking at best that it would be a wasted effort doomed to failure, at worst an existential threat to the State of Israel.
Security concerns are legitimate and since I don’t live in Israel, I defer to those who do to make evaluations relating to security. But the fact is that continuing the status quo means the continuation of the agonizing ethical and moral questions raised by the occupation and the lack of self-determination for Palestinians. In addition, the demographic reality threatens Israel’s vision of being a Democratic Jewish State based on Jewish values.
Then, there are many on the other end of the political spectrum who have given up on the two-state solution altogether and are proposing ideas for a “one state solution”, a confederation of some sort which would bring Israelis and Palestinians together in a different form of relationship.
It sounds impressive but this path undermines the idea of a Jewish state, which can be defined in so many different ways but remains, I believe, an absolute essential aspect of Israel’s existence.
And, then sadly, I must add, there are those in Israel who openly consider Rabin to have been a traitor, a rodef, a pursuer of Jewish lives. Some defend his assassin and spew anti-Arab rhetoric and support horrendous acts of violence. As sad as it is that there have been these voices in Israel, it is the reality that some who have most clearly spread this type of poison and with it, exclusion of women from positions of political leadership and horrendous anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and threats, are now a vital part of the equation in the results of Israel’s election and stand to be part of the government coalition.
This is an abomination and all who look to Israel as a reflection of Jewish values should abhor this and speak out clearly against it. It is a disgrace for a nation which presents itself as representing Jews throughout the world.
Now some nostalgia of a sad time but a time that had some hope as well.
Turning the clock back 27 years, in my sermon on the Shabbat after Rabin’s assassination, I shared words that were written earlier that week by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times in an essay entitled; “How About You?”
Friedman wrote about the fact that Rabin had made his choice to stand with those in favor of peace through territorial compromise. Friedman wrote: “We do not honor Mr. Rabin by avoiding that choice. We honor him by making that choice. We honor him by helping in every democratic way possible to enlarge the Israeli majority in favor of peace with the Arabs, because, as Mr. Rabin knew, that is the only hope for preserving a secure, democratic Jewish state. For everything there is a season and this is the season of choices. Yitzhak Rabin made his. How about you?”
After quoting those words, I said: “And so, even though I know in my heart I have said it before, let me say it again clearly. The best way to honor Yitzhak Rabin is to speak out loudly in favor of this peace process which is Israel’s best hope for survival. We owe this great man who paid the ultimate price for the risk he took to be forthright in our choices and my choice is for this process to continue.”
That was then and this is now and it is clear in so many ways that regarding the two-state solution, we are inclined to say that “That Ship has Sailed’ and in all honesty and candor, I am sad to admit that this may in fact be the case.
But the status quo of the occupation continues to be a refutation of Israel’s claim to be a democratic Jewish state and a country based on the foundation of ethical Jewish values. It continues to leave Palestinians in the territories without the self-determination that all people deserve. And I have yet to see a Plan B that addresses those realities.
So, as distant a hope as this may be, I continue to hope in some way that Rabin’s goals, the goals he formulated but never saw to fruition will someday come to pass, in one form or another.
For now, all of us should mourn this man who learned, then taught but sadly was not able to make the practical difference in the world that he sought to make.
God willing, someone will come along who will.
Please rise for a memorial prayer.