This Shabbat November 4 will particularly remind me of another Shabbat November 4 which was exactly 28 years ago. Like the week that began that Saturday night, this Shabbat we read Parashat Vayera, which includes the story of Akedat Yitzchak, the sacrifice (nearly) of Isaac. This story is familiar of course from its reading on Rosh HaShana. Yet here we are just six weeks or so later and we read it again within the framework of the weekly Torah portion.
On that Saturday night 11.4.1995, another “Yitzchak”, Yitzchak Rabin, who was then Israel’s Prime Minister shared these words in a speech to masses of people who attended a rally for peace in Tel Aviv. He said:
“I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here – and they are many…
…This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace…
…This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace.”
We can only wonder what would be or could be if Yitzchak Rabin – like Yitzchak in the Torah – had been spared at the last moment instead of being assassinated only a few minutes after giving that speech…that speech which was printed and folded in his pocket and found pierced by a bullet and soaked in blood.
On this Shabbat 28 years later on November 4, 2023 which is Parashat Vayera, we can only ask but know no answer:
Would the more than 1,400 Israelis butchered on Oct. 7 still be alive today? Would the 249 hostages in Gaza never have endured such horrors? Would the 25 IDF soldiers who have died since the ground war began this week still breathe and be able to sit with their families at Shabbat dinner tonight? Would Jews around the world not feel so threatened and traumatized at the shocking displays of antisemitism?
All the thousands – thousands! – of non-Hamas Palestinians who have died and been wounded due to Hamas’ war launched against us and Hamas’ cruel and sinister use of them as human shields: Would they still be alive and whole to remain the cherished mothers and fathers and children they are to their loved ones?
We can’t know.
But we do know this:
Just as Rabin said, we need to “[fight] so long as there [is] no chance for peace,” and now is the time to fight and to win this war. Make no mistake: there is no chance for peace with Hamas. There is no chance for peace with those who celebrate violence and death, those who teach hate, with those who glory in destruction and especially those who defy God by falsely justifying their acts of murder in [supposedly] God’s name.
No. We are, and must remain, the opposite of that.
And in this time of war, we have to remain true, still, to what Rabin said, which always was – and must remain stronger than ever – the ethos of the IDF and Israeli society:
We are fighting this war to defend ourselves, and by eliminating Hamas, we are creating a chance for peace. In the midst of this war we must remind ourselves that of the aspiration and the hope that when there will once again be a chance for peace we must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here – and they are many…
We must always and especially now through this war see the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children,  for our grandchildren, [we must] exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace…
A lot distinguishes us from Hamas, but let this vast difference stand out especially and let it send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace.
This is why we are fighting this war – for the sake of peace – and this is why we will win this war – for the sake of peace.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz