Sermon: Parashat Behar – Israel at 66

Parashat Behar
May 9, 2014
Temple B’nai Chaim

Rabbi David Lipper

Israel at 66

So as many of you know, I rarely depart from the Torah or spiritual topics on Shabbat.  But around this time every year, my heart and thoughts turn to Israel.   It starts with an acknowledgement of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.  Many of my memories of the times I lived in Israel surround my service in the IDF, during the war in Lebanon and the many times I passed by the Prime Minister’s residence in Israel and saw the count of dead and injured, many who were friends.   And then immediately that memory is followed by parties in the streets along Ben Yehudah Avenue, as we marked yet another Independence Day.  Now 66 of them have passed and Israel needs us more than ever.

But first, a story …

There is a joke told about an Israeli bus driver and a pious rabbi who die on the same day. They are brought before the heavenly tribunal, and the bus driver is immediately admitted to heaven. The rabbi, however, is told to wait; his case needs to be examined more carefully.

The rabbi is outraged. “I know for a fact that that bus driver was a totally irreligious Jew, while I gave a shiur, a lesson in Talmud every day.”

“Ah yes, that is all very true,” the heavenly angel tells him. “Except when you taught Talmud, you caused many people to fall asleep. When that driver drove his bus, everybody prayed.”

If you’ve been to Israel and ridden on an Egged bus before, hopefully you can appreciate this classic humor. The trend of aggressive Israeli driving in buses and cars is more than just the butt of jokes, however. It is a part of Israel’s reality, attributed by some to the stress that Israelis feel on a daily basis. In Israel’s 66th year of life, the halutzim’s, or Israeli pioneers’, pre-state aspirations of an idyllic kibbutz-centered agrarian communal lifestyle may seem more like ancient history than a time from this past century. But Israel’s existence and complex reality, with its combination of virtues, shortcomings and challenges, is still unequivocally the fulfillment of a two-thousand year old national aspiration.

For where else can Jewish people be, as the powerful words of the Hatikvah remind us, “Am Hofshi B’Artzeinu, Eretz Tziyon V’Yirushalayim” a free people in our OWN land. And not just any land—but the land of Zion and the holy city of Jerusalem, a place which has been the homing beacon to Jewish hearts since our earliest days as a people dispersed among the nations.

But the signal of that homing beacon has waned disturbingly in recent years. Many people are making a compelling argument that the connection between American Jewry and Israel is as tenuous as it has ever been.

Our awareness of Israel has become less personal, and more and more become an awareness shaped by the media’s unbalanced and incomplete depiction. And why should this surprise us? Because despite the wonderful success in the last ten to fifteen years of Taglit/Birthright Israel in getting young Jews to Israel
for the first time (nearly 145,000 18-26 year old Jews from 52 countries to date), it seems that there are more and more American Jews who have never been to Israel even once in their lifetimes.

If we haven’t been there, haven’t walked the land of 3000 years of our people’s history, if we haven’t seen with our own eyes what is really going on, then it is difficult to know any better. Whereas it was once a foregone conclusion that American Jews would defend Israel against the media amongst our friends, at college campuses, and in the workplace, now it is no longer something we can take for granted.

The general press routinely gives the impression that both Israel and the Palestinians are equally culpable in the complex conflict between them. We must not give in for a second to the fallacy that there is moral equivalence in the violence on both sides. How is it morally equivalent when Israel empties family and friends from the home of known terrorists before demolishing the house, and conducts house-to-house searches for terrorists rather than bomb the homes in order to limit civilian casualties, while the Palestinians create a Mickey-Mouse look alike named Farfur to brainwash their children through television that violence and martyrdom is ideal, if it eliminates the Zionist oppressors?

I will say unambiguously that Israel is not perfect by any means, but it is a country that is grounded in Jewish values and in a culture devoted to life. I am still amazed by the 2004 story when Israel opted to trade 400 militant prisoners to Hizbullah for one Israeli businessman suspected of criminal activity, and three bodies of Israeli soldiers— It shows just how much Israel values life, and even how much Israel cares about the Jewish values of Pidyon Shevuyim, the redemption of captives, and K’vod Ha-Met, the ability to bury its dead, a fact which its enemies have constantly exploited. Make no mistake—though Israel is a democracy, it is still the Jewish state through and through.

The world is as critical of Israel as it ever was—and we, as American Jews, must again stand up and be counted amongst her vocal and loyal supporters. You see that is the test of our commitment. We who have just in time, moved from Holocaust Remembrance Day to Memorial Day and now to Independence Day all in the span of 2 weeks have to ask ourselves what is our commitment to the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. How can we insure that our children and our grandchildren continue to have the hope of Israel’s purpose … to live a two-thousand year old dream.   A free people in our own land.   

So listen to the news, read Jewish sources and use your financial means to insure Israel’s continued place in the world. Send your generations to Israel and create that personal moment to give voice to the dream

Shabbat Shalom.