This week we read the first portion in the fourth book of the Torah, which begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company." In other words, we have here a book that will list the names of the families of Israel -- a sort of "national registry" -- or if you will, a kind of a "telephone book."
I am sure you are aware that Telephone books are very important when you want to contact someone and you don't have their number or address -- but they are not exactly the most exciting reading in the world... Therefore you have to cull the text to find what it is that we can learn from the few short verses that come between continuing lists of names.
In the third chapter of Leviticus we read "Then the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, so that they may assist him. They shall perform duties for him and for the whole congregation in front of the tent of meeting, doing service at the tabernacle; they shall be in charge of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and attend to the duties for the Israelites as they do service at the tabernacle." [3:5-8] Why the Levites? Some would say that it was because they were the family of Moshe -- but that was not necessarily a virtue. After all, in the sixteenth chapter of this same book we shall read, "Now Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth -- descendants of Reuben -- took two hundred fifty Israelite men, leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they confronted Moshe. They assembled against Moshe and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the Lord is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?" We also know that the originator of the family, Levi, son of Ya'akov, had committed two great wrongs: in Genesis 37:19, "They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams."" Our tradition tells us that the "they" who spoke to one another are Shim'on and Levi -- the same two who are also involved in the revenge for the rape of Ya'akov's daughter, Dinah. We read in Genesis 34:25-26, "On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shekhem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shekhem's house, and went away." The commentators do not suggest that what was done was right, quite the contrary, even Jacob, in blessing his children could not forget the wrong done -- "Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. May I never come into their council; may I not be joined to their company-- for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel." And maybe this is why Simeon became a tribe, and Levi did not.
However, while in combination with Shim'on Levi was volatile and dangerous, like Nitrate with Glycerin, separately each could be a good member of society, and Levi could even be a special blessing to all who came in contact with him. Thus we read, when the Israelites became intoxicated with the Golden calf, and Moshe called, "Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me!" - All the sons of Levi gathered around him." And the commentators further tell us that Psalm 92:12-15, "The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." allude to the Levites -- for they are the ones who are "planted in the house of the Lord."
What do we learn from all this? We learn that one can be rehabilitated from transgression and sin. That each of us is capable of returning to God and living in His shadow, in His house -- under the canopy of His love and protection. May we all take heed and prepare ourselves, through study and practice, to be His servants, His Levites.
This week we read the first Torah portion of the fourth book of the Khumash (the "Five Books"), which begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company." In other words, we have here a book that will report to us the names of the families of Israel -- a sort of "national registry" -- or if you will, a kind of a "telephone book." While statisticians the world over never stop to tell us how very important such registries are, we are all aware that they are not the most exciting reading in the world.
This evening I want to take the very concept of record keeping and expand from it. What is the purpose of taking a census, or having a registry of names? After all, back in the days of Moshe they did not have telephones -- so why did they need telephone books? The answer, in my mind, has to do with the idea expressed so well by the American educator-philosopher, George Santana, who said that a people who do not learn from their history are bound to repeat it. We keep records to draw lessons from the facts and the figures that they contain. Thus I have always been a history buff. I studied with relish and interest the unfolding story of the struggles of humanity to survive in a world that by nature makes humans almost unfit to survive -- let alone have dominion upon this earth...
This week we celebrated the anniversaries of two events in recent history. Both were of the utmost importance to us Jews -- though they are quite different in character and in scope. They are also viewed quite differently by the rest of humanity. What am I refering to? On Thursday last we celebrated the fiftieth annivcersary of the Marshall Plan; The day before, we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the riunification of Jerusalem, and the first time in two thousand years that Jerusalem was totally and exclusively under Jewish sovereignty in over twenty five hundred years. I am sure that I do not have to tell you how these two events are different -- but you may not be aware how they are the same.
The Marshall plan and the reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty both happened as a result of a great victory of a nation, under God, in a just war waged under duress for the purpose of the survival of the Judeo-Christian ethics and civilization. We are all aware that the Second World War was just such a war. What most people forget is the purity of purpose that drove the American enterpise in that war. We did not want to gain land or assume hegemony over another people. We did not wage the war, nor did we have plans to follow our victory with economic gains and financial of material rewards. Quite the contrary! We began our involvement with the war (particularely in Europe) with a selfless and expensive attempt to arm the "forces of good" in their battle with "the forces of evil." Still, the war was so long and so bloody that by the time the guns fell silent Europe was totally devastated. As in the battles of the wild dogs of Africa, both victor and vanquished lay bleeding and in danger of death. The only nation to come out of the war standing on its feet, glorious in victory as it had been before it was attacked -- and maybe even more -- magnanimous to its allies and forgiving to its enemies. America was blessed with men of vision at its helm -- president Harry Truman and chief of joint staffs and later Secretary of State George Marshall. Under such men the nation agreed to help in the battle for peace and the repairing of the devastation of Europe even as we bore the brunt of the battle to defeat Nazism. The victory of the Allies, headed by the United States was so complete and so decisive that no one could deny it. The United States pledged its help to all nations that would become part of a community of peace-and-cooperation-seeking nations. The American Marshall plan was twinned and matched by a European plan, called the Schumann plan -- and through this cooperative effort a Europe that lay exhausted and physically devastated by war was able to rehabilitate itself in a period of less than twenty years. New industries were built; new roads and rail lines stretched accross lands and boundries; old enemies became business partners and grew confident in each other's company to the point where old enmities were buried and forgotten.
The reunification of Jerusalem was also the result of a great victory -- in its own way and given the proper perspective maybe a greater victory than the Allies' victory in Europe. Israel, a Jewish nation not quite twenty years in existence, defeated the combines armies of three nations on three fronts, aided by expeditionary forces from at least five other nations. Standing on the precipice of extinction, unanswered by all the power brokers of the world, cheated of guarantees of help and pledges of support, Israel snatched an unheard-of victory from the very mouth of defeat. With lightening speed, with technical virtuosity and human capabilities unequaled by any other military, a numerically inferior Israeli airforce annihilated the combined airforces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as some bases in Saudi-Arabia in the first three hours of the first day of battle, thereby insuring the victory of the ground forces in the ensuing fierce and costly battles for the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan.
...And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. How well I remember the end of that war! How well I recall the wonder of sight that came into focus when the din of battle and the smoke of the guns cleared. Suddenly and gloriously the barbed wire fences were torn down, the mines that separated Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land accross no-man's-land were removed, and a people who had stared at one another through gunsights for close to two decades came face to face in peace. The Israeli nation, like that of the United States, stood selfless and humble in victory, willing to make an effort to help bring about peace and rehabilitate the wounds of war for both victor and vanquished.
This is where the two historical events diverge. Europe was ready for Truman and Marshall after V.E. day. The Arabs, the Moslems, the Communism vs. Capitalism challenge, and the European nations with their avarice for petro-dollars were not ready for the Israeli offer of the hand of peace and reconciliation on the seventh day of the six days' war. With time the Arabs were radicalized and indoctrinated to hate the Jews and demand exlusive conditions that would make peace and cooperation between the Jewish state and its neighbors a mere illusion, a desert-like visual aparition no more real than the prophetic lamb and lion who dwell together. Israel is still a battle front, its citizens in constant danger. May we take note of the facts and the figures, may we always be aware of the difference between 'bemidbar' aparitions and cold realities -- and may we survive the desert madness, the danger of mistaking sand for water and dying of thirst in close proximity to a well of life-giving clear waters. Let us gird ourselves for the continuing struggle for the survival of our people, our nation, and the heritage that has been maintained from the days of Abraham and Moshe, and David, to David (Ben-Gurion) and Moshe (Dayan). Am Yisrael Kha'y -- the People of Israel live -- and shall continue to live, for our hope has not been lost! Od lo avda tikvatenu! Amen
"Vaydaber Adonay el Moshe bmidbar Sinai bohel moed And the Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out from the land of Egypt, saying, take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of names, every male by their polls;" [Num. 1:1,2] With these words, this Shabbat we begin reading the first section of the fourth book in the Torah we call it Bamidbar, in the desert in Hebrew and its English name is numbers. You may ask, how are the two names related, and I will answer with a story:
Two men survive a plane crash in the middle of the Sahara desert. One looks around for a radio, or water or food in the wreck of the plane; the other sits down with pen and paper, writing and occupying himself with something theoretical to total oblivion of all around him. Finally the searcher succeeds in getting the attention of the other.
"Why dont you help me find the means for our survival?" he asks.
"Oh, but I am!" Replies the other. "You see, I am a statistician. I was figuring our chances of survival. Im happy to tell you that they are 100%!"
"How do you figure that?" Asks the first.
"Assume we discover another plane..." replies the statistician...
Why do I tell you this story? Because very often people depend on the statisticians to tell us our chances. Of course, the statisticians take in all the pertinent facts, all the figures of unit numbers related to weight related to ability related to durability. Then they predict... Like the oracle at Delphi. There is a story that soon after Harry S. Truman became president. He asked if he could get some one armed statisticians to prepare his economic program for the post-war years.
"Why do you insist of one armed fellows?" He was asked. "Is it in an attempt to hire handicapped war veterans?"
"Nothing of the sort," answered the new chief executive. "Im just sick and tired of being told, on the one hand..."
It is interesting to note that we have a tradition in Judaism of not counting. Even when we count, we go about doing it in a manner that will not cause a chain reaction. We count parts, but not the whole. Sometimes, we count what is not, and deduce from it what is. It is considered imprudent to count, if not downright bad luck. The statisticians tell us that counting gives insight but our sages say that counting incites negative forces.
Take for example Mr. Newt Gingrich, speaker of the house of the United States Congress. We Jews rarely agree with him, rarely heap praises upon him. The statisticians would say that our chances of making him a folk hero are somewhere between zero and a negative ten... And yet, touring Israel with a congressional delegation honoring the 50th anniversary of the modern Jewish state, he accused the Palestinian Authority of systematically inciting violence among its followers and harming the peace process. Interviewed on CNN from Jerusalem, Gingrich said, "No Palestinian official should talk about or threaten bloodshed, but yet it is a routine pattern in this region for the Palestinian Authority to, in effect, incite violence." Several Palestinian leaders claimed Gingrichs remarks were a provocation that could lead to violent repercussions among the Arab population as if the PA ever needed to be provoked. Violence is its primary tool for applying pressure on Israel.
People at the State Department and in the American news media, both printed and broadcast, expressed shock at Gingrichs comments. Interestingly, they did not express either shock or even surprise at a "double whammy" delivered last week by the administration in the appearance of President Clinton before the Arab American Association meeting the first such appearance ever for a U.S. President coupled with the repeated comment by Hillary Clinton that she expects the Palestinian State to come into being in the very near future, a most unfortunate statement for the wife of a U.S. President to make. Add to this the pressure applied by the administration upon Prime-minister Netanyahu to accept a "U.S. initiative" that dictates to Israel a pullback of 13% - which Israel claims is detrimental to its security, and you see a pattern. Situation desparate if not fatal can we assume we shall find a plane to get us out of the desert?
Mr. Gingrich, on the other hand, is one of the few top American leaders in recent years to state the obvious and courageously stand up for the only democracy in the Middle East. American officials ignore threats by Palestinians, apparently thinking them empty. While Gingrich defended Israel, the PAs television station, PBC, carried an interview with Dr. Ahmed Tibi, a personal advisor to PA leader Yasser Arafat. Tibi said, "We are here to state that we are the owners of this land," by which he meant the whole land. "We are the rightful owners," he added. "This is our history, and we will never bend." On the same broadcast, scenes were shown from a "Nabka Rally" in Ramallah, ("Nabka" means disaster, which is what they call the creation of Israel), which included a chant from an unidentified leader and responses from a large crowd. The chant included these lines: "Palestine is Arab; Netanyahu Binyamin, Nazi, son of Satan; the entire land is Palestine." During the chant, cameras focused on the burning of a model Jewish community village and a flaming Israeli flag. Other pictures showed a dais in Gaza occupied by Arafat and other PA leaders. Arafat himself joined in a chant: "All of Jerusalem is Arab; the entire land is Arab." There were appeals to "martyrs" and "holy war" - but the picture you got was of a population imflamed by a cabal of intransigent opponents to Israels very existence. If you take these and many similar statements at face value, it is clear that Israels enemies have no intention of making peace, but only war, until all of the land is rid of the Jews and the Palestinians occupy it and rejoice in a Judenrein Jerusalem, too. And what convincing evidence is there that we should not reach this conclusion? Do we assume we shall find a plane to get us out of the desert?
What other conclusion can be reached? Either Arafat and his supporters are lying to their fellow Palestinians about their intentions, or they are lying to Israel and the United States and they are using the so-called "peace process" to pick Israels pocket. Which is it? Look at the population on the T.V. screen; listen to the venomous chant; can anyone doubt the incitement to violence against the Jews. An armed "police force" with assault rifles has been set up -- to prevent street crime in Gaza and the towns of Judea and Samariah?
Or is there another reason for the unease at Foggy Bottoms? Could the reason the State Department is upset by Gingrichs remarks be that it blows the cover it has devised to hide the true intentions of Israels enemies. Is it possible that this is not at all about negotiations between equals trying to work out a means by which they may coexist in the same land with mutual respect and guarantees of safety and security. Does State know the truth, that this is about one sides determination to eradicate an entire people from the region by whatever means necessary, and has State secretly aligned (or worse, allied) itself with this goal. Is it about one side that makes its violent intentions plain. And is it about an American government that for the last two administrations has tried to force Israel into believing the unbelievable: that real peace is possible with people who want you dead and gone. Is Israel forced to negotiate the terms of its own suicide?
We read this Shabbat the portion of Bmidbar in a desert. Let us gird ourselves for the task of surviving. Let us forget the clown who continues to laugh even when his pants are on fire; let us turn away the statisticians who assume that we will always find a plane to fly us to safety, and let us count our friends, our true friends, those who will bravely face unpleasant truths, who will stand fast by our side even if this will cost votes or petro-dollars. The time in nigh, the task is nothing less than an affirmation of our very right to exist, to prosper and to continue our partnership with God in the advancement of civilization, bringing about His kingdom and sovereignty.
This week we read the first Torah portion of the fourth book of the Khumash, which begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company." In other words, we have here a book that will report to us the names of the families of Israel -- a sort of "national registry."
This evening I want to take the very concept of record keeping and expound upon it. What is the purpose of taking a census, or having a registry of names? The answer, I would think, is that we keep records to draw lessons from the facts and the figures that they contain. Thus I have always been a history buff. I studied with relish and interest the unfolding story of the struggles of humanity to survive in a world that by its nature nature makes humans almost unfit to survive. To think that God told us to "have dominion upon this earth" -- how incredible. It is like catching a cheetah by the tail. You are in for a ride, at the end of which you just may be the cheetah's snack...
Today, Friday, the twenty eighth of Iyar, we celebrate the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. We call it Yom Yerushala'yim. I am nothing if not a son of Jerusalem, my home town, the place of my roots, both physical and spiritual. Yerushalayim shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold, the source and fountainhead of countless poets -- living and dead, immortal - one and all, some merely inspired and others God-driven and prophetic. Across the ages they speak the praise of the city in the hills, the Capital of Kings and the Chosen of God more than twenty five hundred years ago. I am sure that I do not have to tell you just how the liberation of that part of Jerusalem that was in "exile" affected all who were fortunate enough to witness it!
I grew up in a pre-state, unified city of God, where Judaism, Christianity and Islam shared in the blessing of synagogues, churches and mosques. Arab and Jew, Maronite, Copt, Armenian and catholic, coexisted for hundreds of years. No, they were not good friends, Moslems did not accept any deviation from their 'holy writ,' the Quran; Christians did not trust one another, let alone non-Christians -- and the Jews were third class citizens under any ruler...
In 1881, when my grandfather arrived at its gates, Jerusalem had a population of about 25,000 more than half of whom were Jews. While there were a few neighborhoods outside the walled city, most of the inhabitants still lived within the walls, much in the same way and, in fact, in the same homes that had been there for over four hundred years. The gates of the city were closed at night, and reopened at sunrise. The city grew with each wave of Jewish immigrants, and finally, at the end of the First World War became the administrative center of the British mandate territory. Let us not forget that the mandate was given to carry out the British policy stated in the Balfour Declaration, and remember also that most of the British administration was Arabophile and more than a little anti-Semitic.
Then came the U.N. partition plan, the Arabs began to riot, causing a rift in the city -- separating the "old" city from the "new," driving the Jews from their homes in the walled section of Jerusalem, while evacuating most of the Arab quarters of the city outside the walls. For nineteen years there was no contact between former neighbors, no commerce or neighborly friendships. The reunification of Jerusalem was the result of a great victory -- and of a miracle. Israel, a Jewish nation not quite twenty years in existence, defeated the combines armies of three Arab nations who were aided by expeditionary forces from at least five other nations, on three fronts. Standing on the precipice of extinction, unanswered by all the power brokers of the world, cheated of guarantees of help and pledges of support, Israel snatched an unheard of victory from the very mouth of defeat. With lightening speed, with technical virtuosity and human capabilities unequaled by any other military, a numerically inferior Israeli air force annihilated the combined air forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as some bases in Saudi-Arabia in the first three hours of the first day of battle, thereby insuring the victory of the ground forces in the ensuing fierce and costly battles for the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan. We called that war "Milkhemet Sheshet ha'yamim" -- the Six Days War.
And there was evening and there was morning, the seventh day. How well I remember the end of that war! How well I recall the wonder of the sight that came into focus when the din of battle and the smoke of the guns cleared. Suddenly and gloriously the barbed wire fences were torn down, the mines that separated Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land across no-man's-land were removed, and a people who had stared at one another through gun sights for close to two decades came face to face in peace. The Israeli nation stood selfless and humble in victory, willing to make an effort to help bring about peace and rehabilitate the wounds of war for both victor and vanquished.
May we take note of the facts and the figures, as they did Bemidbar. May we always be aware of the difference between 'bemidbar' apparitions and cold realities -- and may we survive the desert madness, the danger of mistaking sand for water and dying of thirst in close proximity to wells of life-giving clear water. The vision of lifes promise is a memory of things yet to come, an eye fixed on the promise of tomorrow, giving us the energy and the will to live on. Am Yisrael Kha'y -- the People of Israel live -- and shall continue to live, for our hope has not been lost - nor shall it ever be!
This week we read the first portion in the fourth book of the Torah, which begins with the words, "Vaydaber adonay el moshe bemidbar Sinai bohel moed bekhad lakhodesh hasheni bashana hashenit letzetam meeretz mitzrayim lemor: seu et rosh kol adat bnei Yisrael lemishpekhotam... The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans..." [Num. 1:1,2] In Hebrew we call the book bmidbar, which means in the wilderness or the desert. The English name is Numbers, because the major subject of the book is a census of the People Israel that took place at the time of the narrative.
I remind you that counting was not a favorite thing of the Jewish people to do. We had superstitions about how counting brings about bad luck, and maybe even much more than that - it may be the portal to a diminished quantity of whatever it is that we count. Yet, a people must overcome their superstitions and move on, and a people must know just how much, how many, how great or how small is the size, weight, volume, of the matter at question.
One such measure is two thousand years. Oh, how well has this number been drummed into my consciousness in my youth. I was part of the renaissance of Jewish nationhood after two thousand years. We were speaking Hebrew as a national tongue, fighting for our lives, building Jewish towns, raising Jewish cows and chickens and dogs and cats - all for the first time in two thousand years. This phrase, it seems to me, was an expression of the fulfillment of two thousand years of yearning and hoping and persevering in the face of untold pain and suffering.
Somehow, in my mind at the time, and even today, with the good perspective of hindsight, it is all connected to Jerusalem. On the ninth of Av in the Jewish calendar, (also a counting - of time, in this case) we would read the Book of Lamentation : How lonely sits the city, that was full of people! she has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, has become a vassal! She weeps bitterly in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction, and because of great servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest; all her pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distress. [Lam. 1:1-3] We would sing in a minor key a dirge: Al naharot bavel, sham yashavnu gam bakhinu bezokhrenu et Tzion - By the Rivers of Babylon, there we sat, yea we wept, when we remembered Zion. [Psalms 137:1] Our sages, in the Talmud, again and again mentioned the City made capital of our nation by king David. It was taught in a Baraitha in the name of R. Akiba: Thine, oh Lord, is the greatness: this refers to the cleaving of the Red Sea. And the power: this refers to the smiting of the first-born. And the glory: this refers to the giving of the Torah. And the victory: this refers to Jerusalem. And the majesty: this refers to the Temple. [berakhot 58a] and again, Our Rabbis taught, He who has not witnessed the rejoicing at the place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life. He who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor, has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life. [Sukah 51b] For ages we recited the words, at the end of the Seder, Leshana habaa bYrushalayim - next year may we celebrate in Jerusalem. And yet, when pilgrims came to Jerusalem before the beginning of Zionism, they were likely to be disappointed. One, my own grandfather, wrote, Was this the City of David? I thought to myself. For out of Zion shall come the teaching, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. [Is. 2:3] The words of the ancient prophet rung in my ears, as I looked around me at the filth and the squalor. Could God speak from a place such as this? Where was the beauty that the Talmud spoke of? Where was the glory that generations of Jews believed in with complete faith? There I was, a young patriot, the champion of Judea reborn walking through narrow streets reeking with the smell of garbage, animal waste and raw sewage, past donkeys and camels, down steps and tunnels, humbled and shaken as though I had descended into Dantes Inferno. The walls of buildings closed in on me. Where was the sky? Where was the sun? Could this be Jerusalem, my eternal city, my hope of rebirth and healing?
It is not surprising that Zionism founded for itself a home by the sea shore, in the valley of Jezrael and in the green hills of Galilee. Jerusalem was a place of dreams, or promise - it dwelled in the heart, in the mind, and in legends - not on earth. And yet, while we were in the desert, in exile and in danger of extinction, Jerusalem began to return to life. The city was, from the late middle ages, a town with a Jewish majority, and it was our fate that Jerusalem waited to complete and unfold. My grandfather made his home there, and he fell in love with it. He raised his children there and worked to make it the capital of a Jewish nation. His life became the embodiment of the returning exile of the Sepharadic song of Jerusalem: From the top of Mount Scopus, I bow down to you, I salute you Jerusalem. For a thousand generations I have yearned for you, to be worthy to see you. Jerusalem, show your happy face to your son. Jerusalem, I shall rebuild your ruins.
My grandfather died long before the State of Israel came into being, and it fell to me, third generation in the city, to fight in my own small way the battle for keeping Jerusalem as part of the Jewish state. How we suffered, how we clutched on to its rocks with clenched fists, fighting with meager arms and insufficient ammunition doled out to inexperienced citizen-soldiers aged nine to ninety. How we prayed for a miracle that would allow us to be victorious in the face to an enemy superior in number and equipped and supplied by seven sovereign Arab nations that were supplied by France and Great Britain. And how we mourned when that miracle took place, but the Jewel in the crown, the old city and Temple Mount were beyond our reach when the din of battle died down!
In the desert of Sinai another counting was done, in May of 1967. In was a counting of the chariots of war of the army of Egypt. Equipped by Russia, supported by the communist and non-aligned nations, they counted their men, and they counted the days before they would redress the shame of 1948. They planned and schemed and made their purpose known. All the while we sat in the concert hall in Jerusalem and heard the words of yet another poet yearning for eternal Jerusalem. Yerushalayim shel zahav, Jerusalem of gold, and copper and light. For all your melodies I am the harp. Naomi Shemer, this generations heir of David, Jeremiah, Yehuda Halevi and Eben Gabirol, wrote, in the caves in the rock the winds howl, and no one visits Temple Mount in the Old City. The whole nation knew the words of her song almost before its premier performance, and a week later it became a national hymn, sang by young recruits and fathers and grandfathers called up to reserve duty and sent up to reclaim our glory, and our honor, and our national heritage. We have returned to the water-wells, to the market place and the city square. A shofar is heard on Temple Mount in the Old City; And in the caves in the rocks, a thousand suns sparkle bright - and once again we travel to the dead sea by way of Jericho.
Week-days in Hebrew are called "yemey hol" - sand-days. Two thousand years of sand-days turned our lives into a long journey through a desert... Two thousand days of desert sand, time of accounting, time of yearning, saber-rattling and other sounds of war. Never has it been easy to be a Jews nor has it been anything less than a Godly tribulation on the way from slavery to the freedom of the spirit in a world that is consecrated to His glory and His blessing of peace and prosperity that flows from Jerusalem. Happy Yom Yerushalayim.
This Shabbat, two days before the celebration of Shavuot, we read the first portion in the fourth book of the Torah, which is called "Numbers" in English and "Bemidbar" in Hebrew. Frankly, the text is not the most exciting or even the most challenging that we have ever come across it begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company." This is followed by a listing of the heads of families and members of their households. So, in summary, we have here a book that will list the names of the families of Israel -- a sort of "national registry."
So what do we do with this text? How do we find a lesson to learn from it? Am I lost (in my own desert, as it were)? No, indeed! For I shall turn the desert into a blooming garden for us, a cornucopia of wisdom to be attained from the dry wilderness.
Did you know that the word "bemidbar" is mentioned 141 times in the Hebrew Scriptures? Six times in Breshit, twelve times in Shmot, twice in Vayikra, thirty one times in our current book, whose very title is "Bemidbar," and nine times in the last book of the Torah Dvarim. In the second part of the Tanakh, we find eight mentions in Joshua, only two in Judges, fourteen in Samuel twelve in First and two in Second, and Kings has only three, all of them in First Kings. The three great prophets give us seven in Isaiah, eleven in Jeremiah, and ten in Ezekiel. Two of the Twelve minor prophets, Hosea and Amos, gave us two "Bemidbar" each. The third part of the Tanakh, Ketuvim, give us the last 21 mentions (if you are keeping score) eleven in Psalms, one in Job, two each in Lamentations and Nehemiah, and five in Chronicles.
As you can well imagine, many of the references deal with the "bad" aspect of the desert the fact that it is parched, uninhabitable and a great and awesome expanse where one can and does get lost. We shudder to think of "Bemidbar" in this connotation. However, there are also positive messages using this term, and I wanted to point them out to you. In fact, some of these became popular songs in Israel in our times. Listen: "Yesusun midbar vetziya vetagel arava vetifrakh kahavatzelet; ki nivku bamidbar mayim unhalim baarava The desert and the arid land shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom like the tulip... for in the desert shall waters break out, and streams in the wilderness." [Isaiah 35:1;6]
One of the most soothing prophecies of consolation is found in the same source I just quoted, five chapters further into the text: "Comfort my people, comfort them, says your God. Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her, that her struggling is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lords hand double for all her sins. A voice cries, Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." [Isaiah 40:1-4] And again I shall burst out in song for our next quote: "Eten bamidbar neta erez, shita vehadas veetz shamen, asim baarava brosh tidhar utáshur yakhdav I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the Arabah the cypress, the maple, and the box tree together; That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it." [Isaiah 41:19,20]
Another great prophet, Jeremiah, gives us another verse, a love declaration of poetic beauty: "Zakharti lakh khesed neurayikh ahavat klulotayikh lekhtekh akharay bamidbar beeretz lo zrua And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus said the Lord; I remember you, the devotion of your youth, your love like a bride, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel is holy to the Lord, and the first fruits of his produce; all who devour him shall be held guilty; evil shall come upon them, said the Lord." [Jeremiah 2:1-3]
I want to conclude this short examination of the desert with an old story: three men, a Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew, died and went to their just rewards. They arrived at the pearly gates and were told by the angel who guards the entrance that they shall be taken to their place in eternity. A guiding angel took them to an elevator, and once they were in, the doors closed and they felt a sinking sensation as it plummeted down, down, down. After a short eternity the capsule came to a halt and the door opened. Outside was pitch dark, hot and humid, and a constant low moaning sound could be heard. The angel motioned to the Protestant that this was his destination, and he bravely marched off the elevator.
The doors closed and again there was that sinking sensation as they plunged further into the void, to travel an undetermined distance, and again they came to an abrupt halt. The door opened, and their eyes were blinded by the brightness of the flames that filled the outside and licked the portal of their chamber. Horrible shrieking and deep moaning filled the air, as the angel prompted the Catholic to accept his fate.
The door locked behind the wretched man, and the booth seemed to go into free fall, sinking faster and faster till it hit rock bottom. The Jew looked at the angel in trepidation as the door was about to open. Having witnessed the first two stages of judgement, he was expecting the worst. The doors opened to reveal an idyllic scene of pastoral beauty. There, before their eyes, was a valley covered with clover, with a small stream meandering down a riverbed edged with flowers and willow trees. Little cottages, painted white, with red tile roofs dotted the hill, and adults and childrens voices laughing and rejoicing filled the air like music.
The Jew looked at the angel, and the angel returned the puzzled look back to the Jew. Suddenly comprehension changed his demeanor, and he proclaimed loudly, "Those damned Israelis and their LAND RECLAMATION PROJECTS!"
And that brings me to the last quote for this lesson, from the last book of our Tanakh, Chronicles 2: "Vayiven uziyahu migdalim birushalayim vayekhazkem; vayiven migdalim bamidbar vayakhtzov borot rabim And Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, and at the Valley Gate, and at the turning of the wall, and fortified them. Also he built towers in the desert, and dug many wells; for he had much cattle, both in the Shephelah, and in the plain; farmers also, and vine dressers in the mountains, and in Carmel; for he loved the soil. " [II Chron.26:9,10] May God console Israel and allow it to make the desert bloom forever.
With the following
words, "Va'ydaber Adona'y el Moshe b'midbar Sinai b'ohel mo'ed And
the Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting,
on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out
from the land of Egypt, saying, take a census of all the congregation of the
people of Israel, by families, by the house of their fathers, according to the
number of names, every male by their polls;" [Num. 1:1,2] this Shabbat
we begin reading the fourth book in the Torah. The book is called "B'midbar"
in Hebrew - which means in the desert.' The English name is Numbers. You
note that there is no relation whatsoever between the two.
Why is that?
The reason is a philosophical difference about name giving between the ancient Hebrews and the Greeks, whose translation of our Scriptures gave rise to the English names of our "books." The Greeks examined the contents of a text and gave a name to fit. The Hebrews merely chose the first important word in the text to "name" it.
You would think that the Greek system is much smarter - a book about activities in the kitchen should be called a "cook book" - and not the "take one cup" book. That being the case, why bother with the old Hebrew names?
The reason is not so obvious - but it is very profound! You know how people talk of "judging a book by it cover." Very often we make up our minds by first impressions. We look at the book cover, we examine the name of the book. We don't like the picture of a vast arid wasteland, and we read the short blurb on the back cover: "Read all about the census taken by Moshe in the Wilderness. A detailed accounting of the families of the sons of Jacob..."
We put the book down and forget all about it. "Better leave this volume for the mathematically inclined," we mutter to ourselves. And it is our loss!
The Hebrew system, on the other hand, is based on the teaching, "don't judge the container - but what it contains." Open every book; investigate every source of information and knowledge; seek God while He may be found. So, for us "Hebrews," the name we have for the book is just the "right number." We shall examine each chapter, each verse, and try to understand its meaning and the meaning behind the mere words.
Sunday will be the first day of the month of Sivan, and therefore we shall conclude the Torah reading with a special Haftara called "Makhar Khodesh." The text is from the first book of Samuel, Chapter 20. It illustrates our lesson of the difference between appearance and content.
David is threatened by king Saul, whose son, Jonathan, was David's steadfast friend. He pledged to discover if his father was fully determined to kill the young shepherd from Bethlehem. Jonathan pledges to find out his father's true disposition towards David, and establishes a code with David. He will come out to shoot some arrows at a target. He "will shoot three arrows on its side, as though I shot at a mark. And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say to the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, take them; then you come; for it is safe for you, and there is no danger; as the Lord lives. But if I say thus to the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond you; then go your way; for the Lord has sent you away. And as concerning the matter which you and I have spoken of, behold, the Lord be between you and me forever." [I Samuel 20:21-23] Jonathan ascertains that that his father was determined to slay David. He goes out at the appointed time, "and a little lad with him. And he said to his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the lad came to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond you? And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, hurry, stay not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master. But the lad knew not any thing; only Jonathan and David knew the matter. And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, Go, carry them to the city." [I Samuel 20:35-40]
Things are not what they seem. There is enmity between the House of Saul and the House of Jesse - but not the two scions, as we read, "And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and you, and between my seed and your seed forever." [I Samuel 20:42]
Another example of things not being what they seem is the Middle East situation. Many people ask, "can 150 member nations of the U.N. be all wrong and Israel the only right one?" And the answer is "Yes!" The U.N. says again and again that the "Palestinians" want their own country. There's just one thing wrong about that: There are no "Palestinians." It's a made up word. Israel was called Palestine for two thousand years. The name "Palestinian" sounds ancient but is really a modern invention. Before the Israelis won the six-days-war, Gaza was rules by Egypt, and there were no "Palestinians" then, and the West Bank was rules by Jordan, and there were no "Palestinians" then.
However, it looks like there are millions of Arabs living next to Israel who identify themselves as - you guessed it - "Palestinians." They don't want Jews to "occupy" their land. They want a state of their own. That's how it looks. However - they could've had their own country any time in the last fifty years, especially two years ago at Camp David - when they were offered the whole Gaza strip, 97% of Judea and Samaria, and a capital in Jerusalem. But that's no fun. No, they want what all the other Jew-Haters in the region want: Israel. They also want a big pile of dead Jews, So they call off the "peace talks," and start the new terror war that has been going on for twenty months now. Things are not what they seem.
Look at the book cover: a scale of injustice - Five hundred million Arabs on one side; five million Jews on the other. Think of all the Arab countries as a little David, and then there's Israel - Goliath? Would you, Goliath, keep itching for a fight with David? So who invented the idea of a cycle of violence? Where will the Israelis find an army of millions of soldiers to occupy the Arab lands they "wish to dominate and subjugate?"
The world needs to know that Israel is real. We do not delude ourselves, and we do not pretend to be what we are not. A world empire we will never be. However, we are a free, strong and independent nation, and we shall defend ourselves against all who seek to do us harm. Take note, friend and foe, seeker of peace and accepting of lies. We shall not go to the slaughter willingly - we will not go gently into our good night. We shall roar, and we shall scratch, we shall fight tooth and nail - and we shall persevere!
This week we read
the first portion in the fourth book of the Torah, the book of B'midbar
which is called Numbers in English. The portion (and the book) begins with the
words, "Va'ydaber Adona'y el Moshe b'midbar Sinai b'ohel mo'ed The
Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the
first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of
the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites,
in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every
male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able
to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company."
This text does not sound very exciting and from the Eglish name you might get the idea that all we will find in this book will be lists of names and numbers. But this is not quite so, and soon we come upon the story of the consecration of the Levites to assist Aharon and his sons, the Cohanim. And, of course, when we think of the Cohanim and the Levi'im serving God in holiness, we think of the Holy Temple, the one Shlomo built in Yerushala'yim, the city David chose to make his capital, and the city whose reunification under Jewish rule we celebrate this day.
One of my favorite Psalms is number 122. Listen, "Shir hama'alot leDavid: samakhti b'omrim li beyt Hashem nelekh A Song of Maalot of David. I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Omdot ha'yu ragleynu bish'arayikh Yerushala'yim. Our feet shall stand inside your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built as a city which is bound firmly together; There the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For thrones of judgment were set there, the thrones of the house of David. Sha'alu shlom Yerushala'yim yishla'yu ohava'yikh Seek ye the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you shall prosper. Yehi shalom bekheylekh, shalva b'armenota'yikh Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces. Lema'an akha'y vere'a'y, adabra na shalom ba For the sake of my brothers and companions, I will now proclaim, Peace be within you. Lema'an beyt Hashem Eloheynu avaksha tov lakh For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good."
Yerushala'yim, Ir David, Kir'yat Melekh Jerusalem the Eternal, City of David, the shepherd, the slayer of giants, the sweet singer of Israel, king of Israel chosen by God and anointed by his Seer, Samuel how our heart gets excited at the very mention of its name. We have so yearned for it for more than two millennia of exile. Poets and prophets praised its vistas, mourned its desolation, spun tales of its glorious past, foretold its renewal. Faithful, believing Jews clung to its ruins even when it was a sure edict of death. Some spent a good part of their life travelling toward it, to be privileged to be buried in its consecrated cemeteries.
The text of the 122 Psalm says, "Our feet shall stand inside your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built as a city which is bound firmly together; There the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord." what does it mean? In what manner is Jerusalem "built as a city which is bound firmly together?" Surely this was not the case until the 1967 reunification.
Jerusalem has been at the physical and spiritual core of Judaism and of Jews in all the lands of their dispersion for the entire time of their absence from its boundaries. How can that be? How can you be in Jerusalem when you are away, far away from it? Ask any old Jew and he will tell you: You wake up from your sleep in the morning, you wash your hands and face, and you get ready to go and meet God. In Cordoba and Cologne, in Metz and Marakesh, in Budapest, Baghdad and Belgrade, in Algiers, Ankara and Amsterdam, Jews covered their heads with their prayer-shawls, turned their face to the east, and entered a "Jerusalem in time." Thus they were all united in every far flung town and village they were standing at the gate of Jerusalem! It is not an accident that the national revival movement of the Jewish people was called Zionism for one of the mountains upon which Jerusalem was built.
I recall so well the fierce battle in 1948 for the Jewish quarter of the Old City. Is spite of the fact that the quarter was impossible to defend, because it was within the walls, inaccessible except by the road that the Arabs controlled it was not evacuated and abandoned. Amazing acts of bravery were committed in trying to bring succour and relief to its inhabitants and precious few defenders. When the battle was lost, and the remnants, old men and women, and little children, were released by the Jordanian army into the Jewish side of the city they marched in total silence, and I could only think of the words of the dirge, "Al naharot bavel, sham yashavnu gam bakhinu bezokhrenu et Tzion - By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion." [Psalm 132:1]
Then came 1967, and the terrible spectacle of Arab leaders uniting to "reverse the naqba" the disaster of 1947-48. Thanks to the invention of television and the advancement of telecommunication we saw in "real time" the blood thirsty mobs in Cairo and Damascus, carrying red banners proclaiming the final demise of the remnant of the Seed of Abraham. And in the midst of the clamour and the din of swords clanging and tanks rattling came a faint voice from a young girl sitting alone on the stage of Binyaney Ha'uma, the Jerusalem convention center, guitar in her hands, strumming the minor cords to accompany herself in a brand new song, which by the third verse became a hymn in which the whole audience participated and which became an anthem for the besieged yet buoyant Jewish nation: "A'vir harim tzalul ka'ya'yin, veru'akh oranim... Mountain air as clear as wine, and the scent of pines, is carried in the breeze of twilight with the sound of bells. Among the slumbering rocks and trees, imprisoned in her dream, is the city that dwells alone, and it its heart there is a wall. Yerushala'yim shel zahav Jerusalem of God, of copper and of light, do you not know that for all your songs I am the lyre..."
Of all the sound clips of the twentieth century, rich with sound-clips... "Peace on our times;" "We shall fight on the beaches... We shall never surrender." "Ask not what your country can to for you..." "One small step for man..." "I have a dream..." The one that stands out as the most meaningful for the Jewish people was uttered by General Motta Gur, who shouted into a walkie-talkie over the sounds of small-arms fire, "Har Haba'yit be'yadeynu Temple mount is in our hands, I repeat, the Temple mount is in our hands." From David (the king) to David (Ben-Gurion) from our father Yitzkhak, who was bound on mount Moriah, to Yitzkhak Rabin, who fought for Jerusalem in 1948, delivered it back to our people in 1967 and IDF Chief of Staff, and fell in the battle for its peace, Jerusalem threads its magic and keeps us bound together. I can do no better than to quote David, "Lema'an akha'y vere'a'y, adabra na shalom ba For the sake of my brothers and companions, I will now proclaim, Peace be within you."
This Shabbat we
begin reading in the Torah the portion of Bamidbar – the first portion
in the fourth book. The book and the portion begin with the following words,
“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of
Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they
came out from the land of Egypt, saying, Take a census of all the congregation
of the people of Israel, by families, by the house of their fathers, according
to the number of names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and
upward, all who are able to go forth to war in Israel; you and Aaron shall count
them by their armies.” [Num. 1:1-3]
So, of all things, I will make the connection between this text with my subject for this lesson by the qualification in the text for being counted: “ all who are able to go forth to war in Israel; you and Aaron shall count them by their armies.”
Last Monday we marked a special “American” holiday called Memorial Day. Many people mix up this holiday with the one in November, you know – Veterans’ Day. They are not the same, they are not redundant. Each has its own reason for being.
Memorial Day was begun after the Civil War, or as it is called here in the South, “the War Between the States.” It was first named “Decoration Day,” as citizens in the north and in the south were prompted to go out and decorate their dearly departed’s graves with flowers and flags. This activity was initiated in an attempt to reunify our nation, citizens who, presumably, would go to cemeteries to remember their dead, many of whom perished in the war – serving “their cause” – on both sides of the conflict. The plan did not, actually, achieve the result wished for, but a couple of wars later, it was deemed to be a worthy day to remember all those who gave their lives in battle "for their country."
Veterans’ Day, on the other hand, was begun at the end of the first War World, when the shooting stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was first named “Armistice Day,” as the appointed time was not an end to war, but merely a secession of active warfare, not a resolution of the reasons for that war. Eventually America withdrew from the international community and lost interest in the wars fought by and for the nations of Europe and Asia. The only reason the day was not removed from our calendar has to do with the interest of a large American fraternity, the veterans of the War to End All Wars, who wished the nation to remember their sacrifice and their needs.
Let us go back to last Monday, though, back to Memorial Day. The day gains and loses “respect” at different points in our national life. When the nation is at peace, and there have been such times, it is a day for family outings, for parades with brass marching bands and baton-twirlers, picnics in parks and sometimes also visits to cemeteries to remember relatives who passed away in their due time. When the nation is at war, when the trumpet call is sounded and men, and these days women as well, rush off to serve and put themselves in harm’s way “for the sake of their country,” it becomes a time of solemn ceremony, of honor guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier, of speeches and tears in the length and breadth of our land.
Remember, if you please, that this day, originally, was established to remind us of our men and women who gave their lives in a terrible and fierce battle for the very soul and character of our nation. I recall a folk song I learned in the late fifties:
Two brothers on their
way, Two brothers on their way,
Two brothers on their way, One wore blue and one wore grey.
One wore blue and one wore grey, as they marched along their way,
The pipes and drums began to play – all on a beautiful morning
One was handsome
one was kind, One was handsome one was kind.
One came home, one stayed behind – a canon ball don’t pay no mind.
A canon ball don’t pay no mind if you’re handsome or you’re kind –
It don’t care who’s left behind – all on a beautiful morning
Two girls waiting
by the railroad track, Two girls waiting by the railroad track,
Two girls waiting by the railroad track, one wore blue – and one wore black.
One wore blue – and one wore black, waiting by the railroad track,
For their sweethearts to come back – all on a beautiful morning.
Going to war is
not something that one can do without paying a price, even if it is not the
ultimate price - of giving one’s life. Being inducted into the army begins
a time of brutalization and toughening that is absolutely necessary to endure
as a soldier. Certainly millions of people over the generations have lived through
the experience, and lived long and relatively happy lives after they parted
from the armed services – but no one can know or even conjure how they
would have lived their lives without that military service.
All the training and preparation pales before the real thing. Those who were called, and were trained, but did not see action in battle – their experience is not at all the same as that of those who actually were in the crucible of gunfire, canon-shells, bombs raining down from aircraft and land mines blowing underfoot. No one but those who have been in battle can fully understand the heart and mind of those who marched into the field of slaughter, seeing their companions and friends felled by the enemy, witness the carnage and butchery that is modern warfare.
There is no way for the veterans to avoid the lingering after-effects of war. There is a known syndrom, “survival syndrom,” that they all suffer from. They can’t help but ask themselves how it was that they survived while others, who were at least as good as they were, did not. They forever wonder if they survived by somehow shielding themselves from death – at the cost of the life of those who perished.
The war that prompted the creation of Memorial Day was an aberration of nature. Pitting brother against brother, neighbors against one another, men fought with tenacity and conviction. Rivers of blood drained into every battlefield. The wars that followed, particularly the first world war, were every bit as cruel and costly in human life. Even our last campaigns, those of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, have left gaping holes in the fabric of the nation. We need a day to commune with their spirits, to cry for the loss, and to resolve to work for a better future. I recall another great song from my folk song days, the words of which were written by Ed McCurdy, as well, I believe, as the melody
Last night I had
the strangest dream I'd ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a
mighty room Filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said They'd never fight again
And when the paper
was all signed And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads And grateful pray'rs were prayed
And the people in
the streets below Were dancing 'round and 'round
While swords and guns and uniforms Were scattered on the ground
Last night I had
the strangest dream I'd never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war.
May the day come soon when this “dream” becomes a reality, when people will be counted not to go to war, but to come together to celebrate the achievements of their children, who will grow without the threat of attack, without the stigma of not-belonging, without prejudice based on their land of origin, faith, gender or skin color. May we all work together, in memory of all who perished in defense of our liberty, to provide the same rights and benefits for every man and woman, boy and girl living upon this wonderful earth that God Almighty has seen fit to give us as our place of habitation.
or to offerings