Saturday, October 14, 2023

Israel in Crisis: Chaos and Creation. Shabbat Bereshit


Dear Friends,

Tonight’s service was supposed to be filled with opportunities for learning and celebration.  I was actually was supposed to be in New York – where I just left our Confirmation Students – with Cantor Sacks and Tema Cohen our Youth Director. We were having an amazing experience learning about Jewish history and heritage while bonding together as a class – but I felt it was more important for me to cut my trip short and be with you tonight.

Tonight, we are celebrating two B’nai Mitzvah.

We also are recognizing Pink Shabbat – our annual service where we teach about breast Cancer and help alert us to the impact of this disease and the importance of preventive care and treatment.

Tonight is also Meals and Mitzvah – where our students in the B’nai Mitzvah program come together to learn in preparation for their special days…

But, or course, what is in the front of all our minds is the tragedy that has befallen the State of Israel and the brutal war that is unfolding in front of us in Gaza. 

This past Monday night, our sanctuary was filled with thousands of people from all walks of life who came together to show support for Israel and find comfort in the shadow of the unspeakable horrors that were committed by the murderous Hamas Terrorists. The State of Israel is now at war – but, as we know, those responsible for the obscenities that took place are not content to limit their hatred to the soldiers or the citizens of the Jewish State – their vitriol and violence is now directed at Jews all around the world – wherever they may be.

On Tuesday evening, I attended a massive Rally in New York City that filled Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza next to the United Nations and spilled out into the streets. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, NY’s  Israeli counsel-General, NY Governor Katherine Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, And Attorney General Letitia James spoke passionately about how important it is for our nation to be unified against terror. Since this was taking place in Manhatten, references to 9-11 were plentiful. I stood – like so many of you on Monday at our vigil here – with tears running down my face as prayers for the dead and wounded were chanted, Hatikvah was sung and throngs of people of all ages chanted: “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live.

This past week we found out who our friends truly were.  The outpourings of compassion and empathy that I – personally - have received from well-wishers has been powerful. Over the past few days, I have received calls, texts and emails from Christian Pastors, Elected officials and even the Imam from the Downtown Mosque in Denver conveying their friendship, love, and support.

We also have witnessed those who did not feel compelled to step forward and show their support. There were some who used words like – “Cycle of violence” to justify the horrors committed against the State of Israel – or “militants” to describe bloodthirsty terrorists who committed atrocities against civilian men, women, children and infants: who desecrated one of the holiest days of the year with the blood of pure souls and paraded disembodied and mutilated corpses in the streets of Gaza…

We have heard the anti-Zionist tropes and claims that “Israel brought his tragedy upon herself” – as if the slaughter of innocents can ever be blamed on the victim.

For every inter-faith partner who reached out in support – there were at least 2 or 3 whose silence was deafening – and I noticed.  So did every other rabbi, cantor, Jewish professional and layperson. We are learning who are friends are – and we are, unfortunately, seeing those who are not.

We have been impacted by the terror tactics of propaganda and trauma-baiting. Today Hamas has called for a day of rage – not against Israel – but against the Jewish people. As you all know, we take our security very seriously. We have no choice. I hate the fact that funds that could be used for educational, social justice or pastoral programming have to be diverted to hiring armed security guards. But it is our reality in the world of increasing hatred, violence and anti-Semitism. And yet, after consulting with the authorities, we decided not to allow non-credible threats of violence against us to deter us from expressing our faith and our determination to stand up to the despicable monsters who desire to inflict pain on the State of Israel – by killing both Jews and their own people in order to gain the sympathy of a world that does not value Jewish life. Your overwhelming presence in our sanctuary tonight is the best answer to this kind of hatred and fear-mongering.

I grieve for my friends and family in Israel – all of whom have lost loved ones, colleagues and friends. And my grief is quickly turning to anger as I try to comprehend the kind of evil that has been, once again, foisted upon us – so soon after the tragedy of the Shoah…

In order to try to make sense of world events, tonight, I want to turn to words of Torah that have guided our people for generations.


This week, we begin a new cycle of Torah readings. We begin with the creation of the world – parshat Bereshit.

Our text reads:  Breshit Barah Elohim Et Ha Shamayim V’ha Aretz. V Ha-aretz Haytah Tohu Vavohu Vchoshech al ‘pnai Tehom– In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – and the earth was Tohu Vavohu – chaotic and unformed – and darkness was on the face of the depths.

Prior to creation – all that existed was chaos and darkness. It wasn’t until God said “Let there be light” that there could be a division between the darkness and the light:

The act of Creation was a matter of Divine Will – God’s desire for order and light relegated the chaos and darkness to another place.

But we also read that God created Humanity – B’Tzelem Elohim – in the image of God – God gave us the ability and the responsibility to be partners in the unfolding of Creation.

Tonight – we have learned both the power of what happens when we activate the Divine within for good – and the horror of what happens when that Divine Spark is ignored or extinguished.

We need to be able to find the light in the midst of darkness – not an easy task right now


The acts of Barbarism we are witnessing are indications that the world is out of balance – this is a time of Tohu VaVohu

My colleague, Rabbi Geoff Mittleman writes:

“[W]hy [does] each day ends with the phrase “va’y’hi erev, va’y’hi voker” – “there was evening, there was morning.” We would expect that it would go, “there was morning, there was evening,” since our daily rhythm begins when we wake up and ends when we go to sleep. So why is the order reversed?…

Well, the word erev (“evening”) is also used to mean “chaos” (as in the phrase erev rav, a “mixed multitude,” in Exodus 12:38). And the word boker (“morning”) may [evoke] words related to either “split” or “investigate,” as in “putting things in order.” With the repetition of the words va’y’hi erev, va’y’hi voker, “There was evening, there was morning,” the story rhythmically evokes an idea of chaos, then order, at the end of each day of creation.

…One of the key messages from the opening chapters of Genesis, then is: if we do nothing, the world will remain tohu va’vohu, “wild and waste.” God brings order out of chaos, and if we see ourselves as created in the image of God, that is our job, as well.”[]

As many of you know, there are two creation stories in Genesis:  The 6 days – followed by Shabbat, the Story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

When Adam and Eve disobey God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they hide from God.  God calls out to Adam, saying: “Ayeka - where are you?”

There are many texts and midrashim that point out that this is a strange question:  Why does God ask Adam where he is?  Surely, the God who knows everything, also knew where Adam was!  The answer, of course, was that God was not asking Adam for a geographical location, but rather an existential one.  Did Adam know where he was in relationship to his values, his meaning and purpose in life? His Humanity itself?

 – In the face of horror, in the wake of condemnation – it’s easy to want to tune it out – and there are times when we must remove ourselves from the Tohu and Vohu – this is not one of them.  This is not just Israel’s fight – this is all of us – everywhere….

Tonight you will not hear words of comfort – because I don’t know how to comfort a grieving mother whose baby was beheaded.

·               I don’t know any words of comfort for the parent of a teenager who was brutally abducted by terrorists filled with hatred.

·               I don’t have words of comfort for the spouse of a soldier who is risking their life in Gaza -searching house to house for a captive elderly holocaust survivor who was ripped from the safety and comfort of her home

·               I don’t have words of comfort for the young child was was kidnapped to serve as a human shield to protect terrorists capable of indescribably horror.

·               I don’t know words of comfort for the parent who witnessed their daughter’s abused body being dragged throught the streets amidst the jubilation of onlookers.

·               We have no choice but to acknowledge that we are living in a time of tohu and vohu- chaos and confusion.


We all must ask ourselves at this time:  Ayeka?  Where are you? 

My dear friends – the images emerging from Israel and Gaza are horrific. We know that many more Israeli and Palestinian lives will be lost in the battle for the soul – not only of Israel and Palestine – but the entire world.

Simply put – Hamas cannot be allowed to sacrifice the lives of Israeli or Palestinian civilians any more. They must be destroyed. Those who find it easy to overlook the horror of Terror and find an easy target of the State of Israel will not be silent – be neither should we.

We who value life above all else must be vigilant in our pursuit of peace – even when it brings great pain.  AS Golda Meir so famously said in her autobiography:

 “When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

Know that as the pressure mounts on Israel and on those who love and support her, we – your synagogue – and the entire Jewish Community will serve as a refuge for sanity – a place to grieve, question, learn and pray for peace. Thank you all for your support, your love and your generosity.  We have shared links for those who wish to donate to support Israel in her time of need.  Please give – and give generously. It is the least we can do.

Shabbat Shalom

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