Parshat Devarim/Shabbat Hazon: Lessons from Deuteronomy on the anniversary of the 2nd Lebanon War

Parshat Devarim/Shabbat Hazon: Lessons from Deuteronomy on the anniversary of the 2nd Lebanon War

Four years ago on Shabbat Hazon I wrote the following d’var Torah based upon the opening of Deuteronomy:

Just days after Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and its continual rain of rockets upon Israeli civilians precipitated Israel’s defense of her freedom, I found myself at the Norman Rockwell Museum meditating before Rockwell’s depictions of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms.” As I sat in the museum’s rotunda surrounded by these four portraits I heard the voice of the biblical Kohelet shouting out to me, “There is nothing new under the sun.” With my eyes focused upon Rockwell’s art and my thoughts centered on the events unfolding in Israel, I began to understand that this Arab-Israeli war was truly different from all the others that I had witnessed in the 58 years of life that the State of Israel and I share.

As a 19-year-old in 1967 I thought the Six Day War would bring Israel peace with security. Ten years later, when as a young rabbi I witnessed President Sadat of Egypt come to Israel in a 707 rather than a MIG 23 I believed that the peace process had turned a corner. In 1993 when Prime Minister Rabin reluctantly shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn I thought that peace was at hand. When in 2000 Prime Minister Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon and offered the Palestinians their own state at Camp David, I believed that a new millennium would bring a new Middle East.

This week, we will again read Deuteronomy as we prepare for Tisha B’Av, the day that commemorates our Jewish national calamities. Next week will also mark the 24th birthday of Gilad Shalit, who has now spent 20 percent of his life in captivity with no contact with family, friends, or even the International Red Cross.

As I looked at this week’s Torah reading from Deuteronomy, I was struck by a familiar passage that, in light of the Hezbollah attack four years ago, takes on new meaning for me. Moses, in Deuteronomy 1, repeats to the Israelites that God has informed him that he (Moses) will not enter the promised land. While volumes of rabbinic legend and scholarly commentary have been devoted to the rationale of God’s decision, I have always found them unsatisfying. What I have come to realize this week is that the real message of this passage is that despite the fact that Moses now knows and has publicly announced that he would not live to see the people of Israel at peace in the land of Israel, Moses does not quit. Moses continues to do his part in preparing the Israelites for a future where they would be at peace with each other, at peace with their neighbors, and at peace with God in their own land, the land of Israel. By his example Moses teaches us the lesson explicitly stated by Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot:

“The time is short and the task of redeeming this world is great; even if it is not our privilege to see its completion nonetheless we are required to work toward it.”

Realistically, I do not know if in my lifetime I will see an end to the Arab-Israel conflict. Today, I am a realist; I do not know when peace in the Middle East will “cause a new light to shine upon Zion.” However, Moses, Moshe Rabbeynu, Moses our teacher, has taught me, that like Moses we cannot give up hope; we cannot give up on our people, and we cannot give up on God. Let us all include the name of Gilad Shalit in our misheberach prayers but let us all do more than just pray; let us join together in being Israel’s voice in the public arena of America.

This past month, I assumed the chairmanship of the Jewish Community Relations Council of our UJA Federation of North Jersey. I took on this volunteer position of leadership because of Rabbi Tarfon’s words and Gilad Shalit’s silent call. Israel’s military and moral strength is being attacked today by a campaign of divestment and delegitimization.

On Monday night, with our reading of Lamentations at our Tisha B’Av services, we will begin our countdown to Rosh HaShanah. Our liturgical calendar will take us from the depths of despair to the hope of redemption. However, the words of both our prophets and our sages teach us that God is calling upon us to be partners in the repair of this world, and in our personal and communal redemption.

On this Shabbat Hazon, this Sabbath of Vision, I call upon all of you to join me in becoming more active in being Israel’s voice and God’s hands in our own northern New Jersey community by getting involved in our JCRC activities. As my hero David Ben-Gurion once said: “Time works both for us and against us; depending upon how we use it.”

I invite all of you to use a part of your time in the coming year to join me, through our JCRC, in being a voice for Gilad Shalit; for the children of Sderot; for the Israelis and the Palestinians who seek only to live in peace with security; and for the disenfranchised of Bergen County whose lives we touch through JCRC programs such as Bergen Reads. On this Shabbat Hazon, this Sabbath of Vision, let us not only see the possibilities of improving our world but let us all see that, as Rabbi Tarfon taught, each of us has a role to play and energy to contribute to the process of Tikun Olam. With our efforts and with God’s blessing, may this Rosh HaShanah see Gilad Shalit reunited with his family.