It’s been three weeks since the horror of terror and war was launched by Hamas against Israel and the Jewish People. The shock and grief and outrage persist. The worry for friends and family and people-in-general in Israel is a heavy weight, as is the worry for Israel itself.
A mix of disappointment, disgust, and alarm fills us as various groups on campuses and in cities around the world cheer Hamas’ bloodthirst, justify their murderous inhumanity, and blame Israel (and by extension, too, “the Jews”) for this war’s disastrous cost in lives, suffering, and generally for all the world’s ills and evils.
I find the start of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, a helpful clarification on the all-consuming, complex, and difficult things there are to think about in these darkened days.
The story of the Jewish People’s very beginning is a sudden communication from God telling Avram (later, Avraham) to go from his society and home in Mesopotamia to the land that God will show him, to the Land of Israel. And then God tells Abraham:
“I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse those who curse you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.” [Beresheit 12:2-3]
Commentary on these verses through the generations over thousands of years seem like they were written to address our situation today, precisely. Our Etz Hayim chumash says this by way of explanation:
YOU SHALL BE A BLESSING: You will serve as the exemplar by which a blessing is invoked…Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch takes this not as a promise, but as a command. To merit the promised reward, you must live so as to be a blessing to the world.
I WILL BLESS THOSE WHO BLESS YOU: Those who wish you well and show solidarity with you will enjoy God’s blessing of well-being.
AND CURSE THOSE WHO CURSE YOU: Whoever mistreats you will reap misfortune…why would anyone curse or hate Abraham, who is setting out to serve God and be a blessing to all humanity? There have always been individuals and societies that resent God’s strenuous moral demands and direct their resentment toward those who strive to live up to them.
AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BLESS THEMSELVES BY YOU: People will take your good fortune as the desired measure when they invoke a blessing on themselves…history has borne out the validity of Rabbi Hirsch’s comment: “‘I will bless each nation in accordance with the respect it shows the Jewish spirit.’ Nations and empires that have treated Jews well – from Moslem Spain to the United States – have flourished, owing in large measure to their openness to many peoples and to the specific contributions of their Jewish citizens. Nations that began by persecuting Jews, out of their hatred for the Jewish moral code, too often have gone on to bring destruction on themselves and their surroundings.”
While Israel is far from perfect, it is a source of blessing – and strives to remain a source of blessing despite being attacked for it – to the Middle East and the world.
Israel exemplifies freedom, tolerance, and democracy in a region where this is otherwise unheard of; Israel accepts the premise of Human Rights as the governance principle for the world, even if living up to that standard is made more difficult by our enemies’ inhumanity in their determination to destroy the country; Israel accepts that there are laws even in warfare, and abides by those laws as thoroughly as it can while needing to destroy its enemies who do not keep to the rules of war…in fact, who cynically use those rules as a weapon against Israel and their own people. Despite everything, Israel teaches peace, dreams of peace, and works for peace both for itself and for its neighbors.
This Shabbat, let’s count our blessings, and chief among them: the blessing which is the State of Israel and the Jewish People doing so much good in this world, and all those who bless us and desire the life of blessing together with us.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz