It’s not very Shabbosdik in Israel right now, to put it mildly. As we speak, hundreds of missiles are flying into Israel from Gaza. For the 1st time since the Gulf War, missiles have struck Tel Aviv. Do you know what that means? It means that 4.5 million Israelis are now in range of these missiles. It all started as Hamas intensified its lobbying of missiles into southern Israel. The military commander of Hamas, Ahmed al-Jabari, then bragged about how he was responsible. The next day the Israelis targeted his car and he was blown to bits. Hamas retaliated with a massive 500+ of Iranian Fajr-5 long-range missiles, Russian Grad rockets, Qassams and mortars into Israeli cities and towns.
One of the victims was pregnant Mirah Scharf, 26, who was a Chabad emissary to New Dehli, India. She came to Israel in order to give birth, but arrived early to attend the memorial service for Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries who were victims of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Mirah’s husband and 3 children are still in the hospital recovering from the attack. During the funeral, which they could not attend, everyone had to drop to the ground because rocket-alert sirens began to wail.
Our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Sderot, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Beersheva, and all the other cities and villages and kibbutzim in Southern of Israel, who know that they dare not be more than 15 seconds away from an air raid shelter at any time, because 15 seconds is all the notice that you get before a missile arrives…and the half million people of Tel Aviv who get a 90-second warning. May Gd be with them this Shabbat, and may they be safe.
What can I, as a rabbi, say to you about what is going on in Israel at this moment? I’m not a general, and I know nothing at all about what strategy works or doesn’t work. I don’t know if the retaliation that Israel has launched will be an effective deterrent, and will stop the barrage of missiles that it has been enduring for so long, or whether it will only lead to more attacks.
I’m not a diplomat, and I know nothing at all about what the political effects of what Israel is doing will be. I don’t know if it will drive Egypt and Jordan further away from Israel, or whether those countries in the Middle East that value stability and resent Hamas will draw closer to Israel.
But as a rabbi I do know 2 things about Israel without a doubt. One: Israel is absolutely morally justified in doing what it must to defend itself. A million Jews live in the Southern part of Israel. That is the equivalent of 40 million people in the United States. Would America tolerate for a minute a situation in which 40 million of its citizens were bombarded with missiles day after day, week after week, month after month—and not retaliate? Imagine if drug cartels joined together, took over northern Mexico and started firing rockets day after day into Texas and California, swearing to liberate those territories that were once part of Mexico. How long would it take for American forces to respond? Is there any nation in the world which would allow its people to endure this kind of bombardment—with no end in sight—and not respond? I think not.
And therefore, I ask each and every one of us to join in standing up for Israel. How? Speak up for Israel with your friends and family and co-workers—with everyone you meet. Write your congressman demanding their support. On Tuesday, November 20th at Ahavath Achim Synagogue at 7:30pm, the Atlanta Jewish community will have a Community Show of Solidarity for Israel. Also, Jewish Federation has opened its Israel Terror Relief Fund. Donations made to this fund will support the immediate needs of the people living in harm’s way. I’ll send you the link tonight where you can donate. You can http://www.elabs10.com/c.html?ufl=1&rtr=on&s=x8pbcb,19d2l,4t7k,ebs0,eyx3,25gs,61t0 href="http://www.elabs10.com/c.html?ufl=1&rtr=on&s=x8pbcb,19d2l,4t7k,ebs0,eyx3,25gs,61t0">click here to make your gift or you can text “defense” to 51818.
The 2nd thing that I know for sure is that Israel will fight against its enemies as carefully and as cautiously as it can, and to the extent that it is humanly possible, it will aim its missiles at its enemies, and not at their women or children even though Hamas makes a point of placing its missiles next to the homes of civilians, hospitals, mosques and schools. It does so because it wants Israel to strike at these places, so that it can photograph the wreckage, and tell the world how cruel and brutal Israel is.
And yet, there were 150 air strikes by Israel Thursday night with almost no casualties. How? Because Israel issues warnings and drops leaflets and texts cell phones so buildings will be empty when struck.
It is yet to be seen how Operation Pillar of Defense—as this military operation is called—will end, whether it will only take a few more hours, a few more days, or even more. It could definitely be expanded into a ground offensive, and we may witness terror attacks. In any event, neither Pillar of Defense nor any other military campaign will solve the difficult problem called the Gaza Strip and the terror organizations which have found shelter there.
Even if the rockets were to stop tomorrow, Israel still doesn’t live in a safe neighborhood. As my friend, Professor Melvin Konner wrote in his blog: “Egypt that used to be the enemy of Hamas is now part of the same Muslim Brotherhood, Syria’s vicious civil war is spilling over into the Golan Heights, Lebanon is unstable and influenced by Hezbollah, Jordan has street demonstrations that could destabilize it as well. The Arab Spring has made Israel less safe, and Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spin.”
Today’s Torah portion has a verse (Genesis 26:16) that is the origin of the end-letter mem. As you know, Hebrew is one of the only languages that have end-letters. The Talmud tells us that they were instituted by the prophets to represent certain verses that will tell us what will be in the end. Let me explain by reviewing the verse in our parsha today. Isaac has gone to live with the Philistines because there was a famine in the land. He becomes hugely successful. So much so, that Avimelech, king of Philistines comes to pay him a visit saying, Leych mey-imanu, “Go away. Get out of here,” ki atzamta mimenu m’od, “for you are stronger than we would like you to be.” Notice the repetition of the letter mem in the verse—atzamta mimenu m’od. The end-letter mem was given to us by the prophets to tell us that in the end, wherever we will go, in the end they may tell us, Leych mey-imanu, “Go away. Get out of here, for you are stronger and more successful than we would like you to be.”
We’ve seen this story repeated over and over again throughout our history all over the world. Now we see it in Israel. Now it is today’s Palestinians—a corruption of the word Philistines—telling us to, “Go away. Get out of here. Go back to Europe where you came from or to America.” And just where is this ancient land of the Philistines today? Gaza!
Let me conclude by reading an article by an Israeli soldier, Yossi Katz, called, “We Davened As Rockets Fell.” It will give you a little insight into the Israeli mind and how they face crisis. Yossi Katz is a Kohen, and in Israel they recite the Priestly Blessing every day in the morning service:
I am not naive. I know what is going on and by no means do I intend to minimize the gravity of the situation. In fact, I will not be learning with my chavrusa (study partner) today for he is now at his base readying for whatever may lay ahead. All I intend to do is put some of my thoughts to paper.
In the morning service the Chazan chanted R’tzey during Mussaf today. [Thursday was Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month and so Mussaf is recited.] I slipped off my shoes and made my way to the front of the shule to say the Priestly Blessing. As I began to ascend the stairs to bless the congregation, a siren began to wail. But we did not stop.
The Chazan called out “Cohanim,” his voice muffled by his Talis. The ground shook beneath us, a loud boom reverberating throughout the shule. But we did not falter.
“Yivarechicha” we sung and the ground shook once more. “Hashem”…We ended with “Shalom,” blessing the Jewish people with Peace. The siren had not stopped and the ground was still vibrating from the barrage of rockets. I descended down the stairs and I realized something more profoundly than ever before. They could not stop us.
These rockets have been disturbing our davening for thousands of years. Whether they came disguised as a Greek or a Roman, a Crusader or a Cossack, a Nazi or a Terrorist–we have not failed. The rockets will ultimately fail! The terror will falter!
Yet Our Birchat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) will go on. It will endure just as it has for thousands of years. I felt a connection to our tradition this morning like never before. I gained a better understanding this morning of what is Torat Chaim, a living Torah. And I realized this morning that we will prevail, for that is the will of Gd.
Yesterday, Israel killed the leader of Hamas’ military. Israel launched 20 air strikes that the BBC described as, “the worst barrage on the Palestinian territory in 4 years.” If that’s the case, Israel’s hands have been tied for 4 years too long. Israel was once the David. She was the underdog, fighting against the overwhelmingly huge Goliaths surrounding her. She had the world’s sympathy.
And then, the world changed its collective mind. It was the Six-Day War, the Lebanon War, the Intifada—different people cite different times—when the roles flipped. Israel became the giant, the Palestinians the disadvantaged, the weak, the David.
And now, depicted as a bully of epic proportions, Israel always needs to ask: How much will the world let me get away with? Israel asks this question when children are awoken in the middle of the night to rush for cover from falling rockets. She asks this question when grandma is afraid to take a shower because last time the siren went off she had to run out, and her wet feet slipped on the staircase and she injured herself. And she asks it again when her people are murdered.
Yesterday, Israel forgot to ask. Instead, she answered some other questions that have been in the minds of hearts of Israelis and Jews around the world: Why won’t Israel’s army use its strength to defend its own soldiers? She will.
How can a country allow one million of her citizens to live with the constant possibility that a mortar or missile with fall on them? She can’t.
How many people need to be killed before Israel shows the people under fire that she cares about them? This many.
For how long will Israel let her attackers get away with this? No longer!
And so, may the promise that Gd made to Isaac in this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 26:3), come true for his descendants: Gur ba-aretz hazot, v’eh’yeh imcha, v’avar-cheka, “Live in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you.” May this come true, and may today, tomorrow and the next day be a quiet day, a peaceful day, for Israel and for her neighbors, for all those who care for her, for all the Middle East, which is starving, not for oil, but for a little bit of peace. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis