Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hands of Esau, The Voice of Jacob

The Voice of Jacob, The Hands of Esau



Dear Friends,

I write this letter from Chicago where I am attending the 100th Anniversary celebration and the National Convention of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).  Temple Emanuel member, Barry Curtiss-Lusher will soon be installed as the National President of the ADL – a well-deserved honor in which we all can take pride.  After the Convention, I will be staying on for a few extra days in order to dedicate the headstone on my father, Sidney Black’s (z”l) grave.

I feel compelled to write and share some thoughts with you about the events which are taking place in Israel and the Gaza strip where, as I’m sure you know, Hamas terrorists have been launching rocket attacks on Southern Israel on a daily basis.  Over the past 12 years, more than 12,000 rockets have been launched – instilling fear and uncertainty in the daily lives of innocent civilians within reach of their deadly ordinance.  Once again, the State of Israel finds itself in the position of having to defend its borders and its citizens. Once again, world opinion is inevitably condemning the IDF for daring to take action against those who seek to destroy the Jewish State.  Make no mistake, the targeting killing of Ahmed Al-Jabari – commander of the Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing – was a powerful message to all those who would seek to use violence to achieve peace.  Al-Jabari had enough blood on his hands to justify any actions against him.  He was the architect of multiple missile attacks, kidnappings, and terrorist actions that have caused anguish for Israelis for many years.  It was Al Jabari who masterminded the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and his comrades in 2006. 

Hamas has taken advantage of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt to smuggle massive amounts of rockets and other weaponry through the porous border with the Sinai Peninsula.  The constant barrage of rocket attacks that have resulted from this increased ordnance could not possibly have been ignored.  The fact that it has taken this long for Israel to respond to Hamas’ unmitigated aggression is, in itself a remarkable act of restraint on Israel’s part.

It is difficult for those of us who are not living in Israel to understand what it must be like to know that any second a terrorist rocket could be aimed at our homes.  It is difficult to comprehend the agony of those soldiers, pilots and military strategists who are tasked with stopping Hamas’ aggression – knowing that it is quite possible, if not probable that innocent civilians may be harmed due to the deliberate placing of terrorist bases and arms caches in the midst of congested population centers.  Those who are responsible for killing innocent Israelis by firing missiles indiscriminately on schools, hospitals and residential centers have no compunction against creating martyrs for their own cause by using their own women, children and civilians as human shields.

In addition, the war against Hamas in not only being waged in the streets of Gaza.  A massive anti-Zionist propaganda effort is being launched by those who hate Israel.  The airways, newspapers and Internet are being flooded with disinformation.  Our task is to remain firm in our support of Israel at this time of trouble.  If you have access to Twitter, Facebook or any other social medium, be vocal in your support of the State of Israel, the IDF and Operation Pillar of Defense.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, when Jacob comes to his blind father dressed in Esau’s clothing and covered in sheepskin, Isaac exclaims:  “The hands are the hand of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob.”  Over the centuries, many commentators have used this phrase to differentiate between those who would use violence to achieve their goals (the hands of Esau) and those who would use words (the voice of Jacob.)  Of course, we try to eschew the use of force whenever possible, but there are moments when we have no choice. This is such a time.  Let us pray that Israel’s campaign will be swift, successful and will pave the way for an era when rhetoric can replace rockets and peace can prevail.

I look forward to seeing you upon my return.  With prayers for peace and wishes for a happy Thanksgiving, Iam…..


Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chaye Sarah and Krystallnacht – the Aftermath of the Election

Chaye Sarah and Krystallnacht – the Aftermath of the Election
Rabbi Joe Black

The robo calls have stopped.
The lawn signs are coming down.
The buttons, bumper stickers and mass-mailings are in the trash or recycle bin.
The buzzwords and talking points have been recorded in the history books
The election is over.  Whether your candidates won or lost.  Whether you are happy or disappointed by the results – it’s now time to move on.  
WE can now breathe a bit sigh of relief.
Maybe I have deliberately blocked previous experience, but I cannot remember a more divisive election cycle than the one which has just concluded. Passions have been so very high over this election.  I know many people who feel that they cannot even talk to friends, relatives and co-workers anymore because of their political differences.

The anger and the rhetoric – from both sides:  the accusations and denunciations that were so easily levied against the candidates and their supporters have taken their toll.
As I said at services last shabbat:  
 as the campaign comes to a head, we need to be careful how we treat each other.  Too many times over the past weeks, I have been painfully aware of our inability to speak civilly to one another about political issues.
After the votes are counted – we still will need to live together – regardless of the outcome of the election.
And this is what I am most concerned about as we, as a nation, move forward.  In thinking about what I might speak about tonight, I looked into this week’s torah portion, Chaye Sarah.  
Like many portions in the book of Genesis, Chaye Sarah has many stories that are woven into the narrative.   It begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham.  Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in Hebron.  He then sends his servant to Canaan to find a wife for Isaac. At the end of theparasha, Abraham dies.  Our text reads as follows:
Genesis 25:8-10:  “Then Abraham passed on, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before MamreThe field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this text is the fact that Isaac and Ishmael bury their father together.  If you recall, the last we have heard of Ishmael was when Abraham sent him and his mother, Hagar, out into the wilderness because Sarah did not want Ishmael to be a threat to Isaac and his eventual birthright.  Abraham had scarred Ishmael by casting him away.  He also had scarred Isaac by almost slaughtering him on Mt. Moriah.
Abraham’s death unites these two brothers.  They both understand pain.  They both understand loss.  They both realize that, no matter what events have taken place in their lives, they are bound together by a common task and purpose.
Isaac and Ishmael had cause to hate their father –and to hate each other.   The Midrash, in particular is filled with stories of their warfare.  Yet, at the end of our parasha they come together in peace in order to bury Abraham. They realize that, despite their history, they are linked together. In burying Abraham, they are also symbolically burying the past and moving ahead to the future.
Here in our community – especially within the Jewish community – we have found ourselves on different sides of many issues.  During the election, the question of which candidate is a stronger supporter of Israel became very divisive.  A friend of mine told me a story last week of how he went into a synagogue recently wearing a kipa that had the name of of one of the candidateson it – it doesn’t matter which one it was.  When he sat down to pray – the person next to him asked him to leave the synagogue because he found thekippah offensive.  My colleague pressed his accuser and asked him:  “Do youreally want me to leave because of my political beliefs?  Think of what you are saying!”  The then went on to describe how he and this man sat down and talked togheter.  In the end, his accuser apologized saying:  “You are right.  It’s crazy that I go so caught up in this election that I felt that I couldn’t even pray with you.  I’m sorry.”
How many other people were in similar situations – but didn’t have the conversation that was necessary to unpack this insanity?
I have heard other stories of people being cornered by friends and family because of their support of a particular candidate and being told that if they voted for him, then they were “unJEwish” or “Anti Israel” or immoral…
Friends have been lost over this election – and not only on Facebook.
Like Isaac and Ishmael burying their father – it is time for us to unite – to come together and bury the pain of this election and move on.  WE must repair our community and remember that we are more than simply the sum total of our political beliefs.  WE are a diverse and complex people – and yet, despite our differences, as Jews and as Americans, we are blessed by the fact that we can both disagree – while at the same time, accepting the fact that our differences make us holy.
This idea is especially important tonight – not only because it is the Shabbat following the election – but because of today’s date.
Tonight is November 9th.  On this day, 74 years ago, the world was changed – forever.  November 9th was the day that came to be known as Kristallnacht – the night of the Broken Glass.  Kristallnact was the beginning of the end of European Jewry.
On this night, Nazi thugs burned synagogues and destroyed Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria.  Jews were beaten publicly in the streets.  Men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  Hitler and his thugs waited to see what the reaction would be from world leaders.  The deafening silence that ensued in the shadow of terror was a clear sign to the Nazis that they had a green light to take whatever steps they wanted to rid the world of the “Jewish problem.”
My mother and her parents lived through Krystallnacht.  They were among the lucky ones.  One month later they were able to get a visa out of Germany and immigrate to the United States.
They memory of that night of terror is indelibly linked into the consciousness of our people. From the pain and horror of November 9th and the darkness and evil that it spawned, we have emerged - wounded, yet determined to honor the memory of those who perished in the Shoah and rebuild our lives, our people and our homeland.
Like Isaac and Ishmael – we are united by our grief and our loss.
If we can survive and thrive in the aftermath of this historical and spiritual darkness, how much the more so are we obligated to move on from the pettydivisions caused by electoral politics?
Though there are those who sought to use fear and mistrust to accomplish their political ends – we are stronger and better than that.  Now is a time to come together and find unity in our historical memory and the vision of a world that ,while incomplete, awaits for each of us to use our talents, strengths and faith to perfect God’s Creation.
We owe it to ourselves.
We owe it to the memory of those who are no longer with us
We owe it to our nation to move on from our divisions and distractions and focus on ways that we can work to perform the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam – of repairing our all too imperfect world.