Parashat Vaetchanan- Shabbat Nachamu 5775
This Drasha was written instead of the one I prepared in first place, as the terrible events that happened in Israel and the West Bank on July 30th and August 1st came to my knowledge. I felt it was urgent to speak to my community about it, that even if there were other important things to say, this was the most urgent.
I was planning to speak to you about something completely different of what I am going to say. Parashat Vaetchanan has so many important subjects! We could have spoken about G-d’s oneness as put by the Shema Israel in this Parashah, we could have spoken about the Ten Commandments, about crime and punishment… but sometimes reality forces you to start over, because even if there are many important things to say there is only one that it is urgent. And that’s what we are going to speak about today.
This Shabbat it’s a special one, not only because of Sam’s Bar Mitzvah, but also because it’s Shabbat Nachamu, as he said before, the Shabbat immediately after Tisha B’Av. In this Shabbat we read the words of Yeshayahu the Prophet asking us to be comforted, to find consolation, telling us that things will be better, telling us to be happy despite everything. I find that request to be very difficult this Shabbat, this Shabbat I am in tears.
This last Thursday, two days ago, took place in Jerusalem the traditional Gay Pride Parade. This event, mainly organized by and for the LGBT community in the city, has come to symbolize much more. It is the proof that in Jerusalem the values of pluralism and democracy still exist, that beyond specific differences we all believe in love, in the right to live our lives in peace and freedom. Our young people from Noam participate every year in big numbers, as well as other youth movements that identify with these ideals.
A Haredi man stabbed 6 people randomly, one of them in critical condition. He didn’t know them before, they just happened to be there. He didn’t know if they are gay or not. He just decided that people needed to die because they were present in that Parade. He decided that the Torah, the same Torah we just read. He decided that G-d, the same G-d we are praying to this morning, wanted him to kill the “abominations” parading in the Holy City.
This same man, I suppose, a few days before was fasting in Tisha B’Av crying for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the same ones were destroyed according to the Talmud because of Sinat Hinam, senseless hatred. This same man committed his crime on the eve of Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, the day that our tradition celebrates as a day of love. The same love that the people in the Pride Parade were celebrating, a love maybe different, but love nevertheless.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night, a few Jewish settlers using masks went to the Arab settlement of Douma, broke windows in a couple of houses and used firebombs against one house with a family sleeping on it. A baby, one year old, was burned to death. His two parents and 4 years old brother survived with 70 to 90% of their body burnt. They are fighting now for their lives.
This baby, Ali Saad Daobasa was his name, was the same age of my daughter Hallel. He was put to sleep at night as we do every night with Hallel, thinking that she is safe, waiting to be woke up by her the next morning to smile when she sees us enter her room. Little Ali never saw the light of the Sun again, he was burned alive, because his murderers think that he has no right to live. Hallel is Jewish, she is ok. Ali was Arab, he deserved to die.
Rabbi Benny Lau, one of the very sane voices in the Orthodox World in Israel, spoke at the end of the Pride Parade, that continued after the attack. He said that somebody tries to murder love and we cannot let them. He asked forgiveness in the name of the Torah, that in its name this deed was done. He claimed that the murderer had a different Torah from ours, a strange one. He also had a different G-d. On Friday he wrote in his Facebook page that after the attack in the Pride Parade, religious people were condemning the attack because “a Jew does not hurt another Jew”, even if he is gay. Rabbi Lau claims that these ideas are not Jewish, that are exactly the racist and hateful ones that lead to the burning of a baby in his cot. He said that the Torah says “you shall not murder”, in short, without specifications of any kind.
You see, the problem is that these murderers didn’t have a different Torah, sadly they had the same one we read every Shabbat. It’s the same Torah that says in Vaikra Chapter 15 that gay people are an abomination and deserve to die stoned. This man changed the stones for a knife to carry the sentence. It is the same Torah that orders to exterminate the Caananite people living in the Land to avoid contamination with their ideas.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein was the Head of a Yeshiva when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. He lamented the fact that the religious Zionist community had produced a murderer. “Don’t say that Yigal Amir, Rabin’s murderer, was a bad seed or an aberration” he said. “Instead recognize that our community has allowed a rhetoric to buzz around that was so violently opposed to Rabin’s policies that a sick individual could get into his head that Judaism would sanction such a terrible crime”.
Rabbi Lichtenstein was a moral hero, a much needed voice in these days. The Haredi newspaper Kikar Hashabat condemned the stabbing, but its editors made clear that in their view the parade was an “abomination”. These words just pave the way for the next murderer to try his luck to destroy the abomination. Religious society in Israel have created an internal communal rhetoric around homosexuality that gay Jews not only are made to feel guilty, isolated, shunned and hated, but this words have created a climate in which a “bad seed” could come to think that stabbing people in the Pride Parade was a holy thing to do.
General society in Israel have created a racist environment, one of hate and fear, in which some “bad seeds” could come to think that burning a baby is a good thing to do, that Judaism sanctions such a thing
No, the problem is not in the Torah we have in our hands, but in the reader. When they read these complicated verses they understand them as Divine commandments, completely valid in our days and not different from saying Shma Israel. When we read this verse, we feel bad, we blame the historical context or try to interpret it differently. We might disagree whether we should let gay people marry in a civil wedding, or have a Jewish religious ceremony or whether they are allowed to be rabbis. I want to believe, however, that nobody in this room reads this verse and take it straight, but the fact remains that it is there.
We might disagree about Israeli politics, the Peace process or the necessity for dialogue, but we must agree and declare in one voice that murder is not the Jewish way in any case, towards any purpose or goal. Murder is a crime and if you do that you desecrate our Holy Torah and our G-d.
Part of the solution is to be aware that racism, chauvinism and homophobia are parts of our tradition in the same way that love, holiness and visiting the sick.
Here is where our specific approach as Masorti Jews is more relevant than never. We love the Torah, we love our tradition, we respect it and consider ourselves obligated by it. We recognize however that our sources have an historical and sociological context and that sometimes they are in tension with modern values that are very important to us as well, values like pluralism, humanism, democracy and freedom. This is the moment we have to deal with them, we must embrace this challenge and G-d willing find the correct balance. We must live with the Torah in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
One of our Noam leaders in Israel, Nir Ben Dror, spoke about this at the concluding event of the Pride Parade. In his words: “We try, activity after activity, day after day, to create a new society that works with different codes, because of our Judaism, because of my Judaism. In the tradition of “love your neighbour as yourself”.
Al ele Ani Bochia, for these things I weep, for the victims, all of them. For the Torah that was desecrated, for G-d’s Name used in vain to justify violence. I weep for the day of love, Tu B’Av, that was transformed in another Tisha B’Av.
In moments of deep darkness, of despair and pessimism, one little candle can bring light to a whole room. Let’s light than candle, let’s be that light.
May Ali’s memory be blessed, Refuah Shlemah to the victims, Shabbat Shalom to all of us.