D’var Torah for November 15, 2019

I began last year’s D’var Torah on Parashat Vayeira with the following story: When I was living in Israel as a rabbinic student, I asked my roommate a simple but profoundly complicated question: why do the Palestinians and Israelis fight so viciously with each other? He paused for a moment before saying, “because they’re brothers. And who do you fight more with than your family?” They are brothers because of the relationship we learned about in Vayeira between Isaac and Ishmael, the progenitors of Judaism and Islam respectively.
Among the impeachment hearings and the Astros cheating scandal, of which I have very mixed emotions, another event was unfolding. It all started when, just a few days ago, Israel killed Baha Abu Al-Ata, the military leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Baha Abu Al-Ata was responsible for several attacks carried out against Israel this year, such as missile strikes towards the Israeli city of Sderot in August, and against the city of Ashdod in September. In response to the killing, Islamic Jihad began launching rockets into Israel. Hundreds of rockets have fallen in Israel with some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, Israel’s most populous city.
Israel has defended herself with the use of Iron Dome, a product of the bipartisan Congressional support of Israel. The IDF has also responded with attacks into Gaza resulting in the deaths of thirty-four Palestinians, most of whom were terrorists. This has been acknowledged by both the IDF and Palestinian authorities.
It is the latest flare up between Gaza and Israel. As of the writing of this D’var Torah, there is a tenuous cease fire between the IDF and Islamic Jihad. On the other hand, Hamas, for the most part, has refrained from participating in the violence.
This begs the larger question as to why Hamas has not only refrained but also cooperated with Israeli authorities. The main reason for this, according to Avi Isaacharoff in his analysis for The Times of Israel [1] was that “Abu al-Ata was a bone in the throat of Hamas, Egypt, and even the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus, which ultimately agreed to a ceasefire without any achievements…None of this is to say that Hamas and Israel will cooperate from here to eternity … but this most recent escalation from Gaza and the ceasefire that is now taking effect, bring with them a rather different reality. They might, just might, open the path to at least a longer period of calm when it comes to the Gaza Strip.”
There are many conversations to be had on the relationship between Israel and the various Palestinian factions. However, what I hope we can agree upon is Israel’s absolute right to defend herself from attack including from rockets and missiles.
Amidst all of this violence, we are reminded of the words from our tradition, “Shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” [2] Or as we learn from Leviticus Rabbah 9:9 we should not only seek peace in our own place but pursue it in other places as well. The goal is not never-ending warfare, but a final and lasting peace. Barring that, even a temporary peace is better than any type of violence.
If you are wondering what you can do, you can thank our national leaders for continuing to support the State of Israel and Iron Dome. Another option, to borrow from a statement that went our earlier this week from the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County is, “We here in Rockland County’s Jewish community have a concern not just for everyone in Israel, that they stay safe today and in succeeding days, but specifically we have a concern for our friends at K’far Silver. This boarding school serves disadvantaged, multicultural students as well as adolescents who come from countries around the world to make Aliyah alone. K’far Silver lies just miles from the Gaza border. If a rocket is fired at K’far Silver, it would take just seconds from launch to explosion…on the grounds…or a direct hit on the dormitories. We don’t know what’s going to happen an hour from now, let alone tomorrow. We do know we in Rockland have stepped up to help Israel when help is needed in the past. If you would like to show that this is one of those times and you want to step up again, please let us know by donating here. The donation you make in support of Israel today will go to fund programs and services in Israel…like K’far Silver…or the Israel Trauma Coalition.”
May peace return speedily and soon to the land of Israel and for us all. Until then we continue to pray for the safety and well-being of the inhabitants of the land and an end to all the violence.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[2] Psalm 34:15