Devarim - weekly Torah portion
This Shabbat we begin reading the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, where in its first portion Moses details the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert for four long decades. Insertions into the geographic information discuss principles of law, order and structure, and a repeated demand from judges, “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man…” All of this ends in tragedy. After all of Moses efforts, toil, sweat, begging and pleading, difficulties, and disappointment, when he was close to success, a demand is made of him to transfer his leadership position to a successor, Joshua. He shall not reap the fruit of his efforts. He enjoys only one small act of kindness, which is detailed in next week’s portion of the Torah, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.” We know that Moses is not satisfied with this and blames the people for his fate, even though we know the reason that Moses does not cross the river with his beloved People, hitting a rock with his cane. He is just human and bitterly complains, “The Lord was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there.’
Joint study for Tisha B'Av at the President's Residence. Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO
This last Thursday the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, invited guests to study with him Judaism before the 9th of Av as is his custom for the past four years. An orthodox – Rabbi Jacob Medan, a conservative – Rabbi Dubi Hayun, a reform – Rabbi Talya Avnon, and a secular scholar, Professor Nili Vazana. Women and men attending despite of their differences and opposing opinions on various issues, set and stood and learned one beside the other. May it be at a loud voice or softly, slowly or rapidly, using age old sources or modern Jewish poetry. We set together, secular Jews with Haredi Jews, Reform and Conservative, women and men, young and old. Never the less a very visible and vocal elephant kicked around the large room at the President’s residency. One that could not have been ignored and was not ignored. Early that morning two police officers knocked on Rabbi Hayun’s door and he was taken in a detainee’s vehicle to the police station to be interrogated for an alleged offense brought up by the Haifa Rabbinical Beith Din. Shortly thereafter the earth shook under their feet and the rabbi was released not before the police released a statement that they were obliged to fulfil an order to investigate a crime. This kind of promptness was never demonstrated by the police when before their very own eyes they saw the Women of the Wall pray and their siddurim burnt, being spat at, ridiculed, shouted at, threatened and scratched – month by month the police is apathetic and indifferent. At least the government’s legal counsel announced some time later that the order for the rabbi to report to the police on Monday is suspended until further investigation into the matter.
This week’s legal wandering did not fare well for the State of Israel. In addition to this disgraceful arrest of Rabbi Hayun, two laws have been passed by the Knesset that contain built-in willful and wicked discrimination. The kind of discrimination that contains in it nothing of the demand, “judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.” One law discriminates against our brothers of the LGBT community on issues regarding the ability to have access to surrogacy. The other law, a basic law of Israel, so-called the Nation Law, disregards many of the democratic foundations of the State, ignores the status of the language of a large minority of the country’s residents, Arabic, establishes that Israel will only work abroad to strengthen the connections of diaspora Jews to Israel, and refers solely to the need of forwarding Jewish settlements without any mention of the specific reference in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that it is committed to develop the country to benefit all of its citizens. I would submit that there is another, even greater danger. This is an act of law that has established that in the State of Israel the nature of the state may be changed in disregard of the Declaration of Independence which also means that the exact opposite is also possible.
On Sunday the 9th of Av day of fast will take place, delayed by one day because of the Sabbath. Many Jews do not fast on this day and on many of the other fasts of the Jewish colander, but for the Day of Atonement. The Talmud teaches us that Jerusalem was demolished because the courts there went by the Torah laws… because they put the Torah laws before compassion. Even if we do not fast, we can mentally fast by thinking of this teaching. Those who think that they can simply force others with their way of interpretation of the Jewish law are doomed to fail because they lack the compassion needed to be judges. This last week we experienced too much of that inability to integrate, include and be compassionate to those who are different, but that should be equal. The fight against this can surely be frustrating. Many of us have been dealing with these for so many years, some a little less. We all walk this long and exhausting march and hear about its difficulties time and time again. It is on this day that I call you not to forget to escalate the mountain, return to your Moses, look and observe from a high ground, and like Moses look way beyond our years, where life will be better because of what we are doing here today and now. There is nothing more comforting than that. On Sunday, when many will go on strike to emphasis the LGBT fight against discrimination, let us climb the mountain as we must strike too.
Shabbat Shalom. Reuven Marko, 20 July 2018, 9 Av, 5778