Shabbat Message: Work to Bring the Day!

Posted on October 30, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

A Message for Shabbat Lech Lecha: Work to Bring the Day!

As I write these words, a key leader of the Palestinian national movement, Saeb Erekat, is barely holding on to life as he battles Covid-19. That another national leader has been infected by this terrible virus is, sadly, not remarkable. What is remarkable is that he is being treated at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, one of the great institutions of the Zionist movement.

One might reasonably ask: Why is an Israeli hospital trying to save the life of a self-proclaimed enemy of Zionism? One answer is found in this week’s Torah portion, which chronicles the birth of the Jewish people and its faith. Abraham is called to a mission to be the father of nations — not just one nation — not just our nation — but many nations. (Genesis 17:4-5) He is also called to live and act so as to bring blessing to the world. (Genesis 12:1-4; 18:17-19)

The founders of the State of Israel understood and embraced this ethos and enshrined it in their Declaration of Independence, promising “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” In his inaugural speech as President of Israel, Shimon Peres put it this way: “Israel must not only be an asset but a value. A moral, cultural and scientific call for the promotion of man [sic], of every man.”

Israel was born amidst great resistance and conflict, but it has never abandoned its aspirational vision to be a force for good and for unity in the world — to fulfill God’s call to Abraham “to be a blessing” to others — and it has never stopped seeking peace.

Evidence of these commitments is abundant. We see it in the work of Israel’s medical institutions, like Hadassah and others, that treat people of every race and nation who are in need, often for free. We see it in the relief efforts of Israeli agencies — the IDF, and NGOs –most notably IsraAid — all over the world, from Haiti, to Banda Achi, and even to Syria.

And of course, we see Israel’s commitment to universal human fellowship in its efforts to make peace with its enemies — most recently, the amazing breakthroughs in relations with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

But not every Jew embraces the universalist visions of Judaism and Zionism. Some believe our obligations as Jews pertain only to our own needs and interests. Some espouse doctrines that are xenophobic, even racist.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an ultra-nationalist Jew who opposed the peace process with the Palestinians. What is particularly salient to recall at this moment is how Rabin was demonized by the opposition in the days before he was gunned down. At rallies, images of Rabin in Nazi uniform were widely displayed, linking him with the greatest of all the enemies of the Jewish people, all because of his plan to trade land for peace.

Tragically, we learned then what we should have known before, and still fail to fully understand — that words of hate lead to acts of violence. The rising tide of antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in America today is fueled by hate speech flowing freely at rallies, over the internet and on social media — and we have seen all too often the deadly outcomes of that. This week we had a painful reminder, as we marked the second anniversary of the massacre at theTree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh.

As we reflect on these horrific acts of hate and honor the memory of the victims, I hasten to remind us that the answer to these tragedies does not lie in acrimony. The antidote to hate is love, and, as Dr. King taught us, only light can dispel the darkness.

Moments before Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, he spoke at one of the largest demonstrations for peace that had ever taken place in Israel, and joined in singing “Shir LaShalom,” a song of peace. Later, the blood-soaked page with the words of the song was found in the pocket of his jacket. Ever since, this song has become an anthem and a symbol of the commitment to work for peace and justice.

And it can serve as an inspiration to all who would walk in the footsteps of Abraham to continue his mission to bring blessing, justice, and peace to the world. Sentiment alone is insufficient, says the song. Our words must be accompanied by deeds. “Do not say, ‘the day will come’ — work to bring that day!”

May the loving and dedicated staff of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem succeed in nursing Saeb Ereket back to life and health, and may his people, our people, and all people learn to live together in peace.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck