Tazria Metzora 5759
Three years ago, when we read this weeks portion in the Torah, tazri'a-metzora, I made the following comments, telling you that the Torah text dealt with cleansing the festering disease of leprosy. I said, "We read, "When a person has the leprous curse (nega tzara'at), he shall be brought to the priest... and the priest must declare it unclean." (Leviticus 13:9-11)
Although this plague has physical manifestations, the Talmudic tradition insists that "nega tzara'at" is primarily spiritual in nature. The Jewish people instituted washing and cleanliness as part of their tradition, and it stands to reason to believe that there were not so many lepers among our people, even in ancient times, as to justify such lengthy discussions about the matter. Hence it was stipulated that the word used to describe the stricken person, metzora, is phonetically related to the expression "motzi ra."Motzi ra is a person who spreads stories, half truths and innuendos that tear the good name of someone or some ones, as a festering wound does, and when the story is done, it leaves a gaping hole where one's good name used to be. Thus one who spreads slander is the cause of the skin blemish. As a consequence of spreading lies that tear at the very fabric of society, one is declared a pariah, and is cut off from the community. Hence this "leprous state" contains a crucial moral element."
I continued and said, "We are celebrating today a Hadassah Shabbat, between Yom Hasho'ah and Yom Hazikaron, the memorial days for Holocaust martyrs and for Israel's fallen youth that gave their lives for the birth, security and continued existence of the reborn Jewish state. Two events that are directly related to the slander we have received at the hands of the Goyim, the nations. This slander, this leprosy, ate at our flesh and devoured it. Throughout our history it gnawed at us, taking a finger here and a toe there -- and sometimes taking so much more. Pharaoh slandered us, as did Haman, Torkemada and the Tzars. We were set upon by the New Testament and by the perverted forgery called "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Their leprosy destroyed the body of Judaism, time and time again, while we hoped and prayed and worked for a better world."
And here we are today, on the edge of the millennium, suffering here in Lakeland, where Hadassah no longer has a Shabbat celebration, and gossip and innuendo has assumed new and more serious dimensions.
Still, we are between Yom HaShoa and Yom Hazikaron, the memorial days for Holocaust martyrs and for Israel's fallen youth. Only now we see a "revisionist" world in which NATO delivers bombs over Kosovo, Kosovar Moslems compare themselves to the Jews of Europe during World War II, and the Serbs call Kosovo their Jerusalem! Israel and American Jewry cry out for the injustice perpetrated on the Moslems -- who collaborated with the Nazis in the death of the Jews, and we are embarrassed to admit any sympathy for the destruction of the Serbs, whose fathers fought off Hitler and refused to turn over Jews to the Nazis to send off to the death camps.
Israel has sent its crack medical team to delivers great humanitarian aid to the Kosovars in Albania, while in Kosovo the Albanian Liberation Army is financed by extremist Moslem Iran, who daily unleashes terror against Israel through Hezballah in Lebanon. And absolutely nobody says anything about the failure of the Arab world to help their fellow Moslems of Kosovo. Leprosy indeed!
Israel has a recurring nightmare of trains carrying people to their death in the Nazi death factories. That is why we allow our youth in Israel to carry guns and be brutalized by being constantly on guard from the ever pernicious attack of the flesh eating disease of eternal hatred. The kind of hatred that makes families of Arab Moslems raise their kids to be suicide bombers and killers of women and children. We are so tired of it, of the disease, of the cure, of the loneliness of the leper that we are willing to hang on to lies as if they were truth. We have placed blind faith in president Franklin Delano Rosevelt during World War Two, even though he refused to lift a finger to save our people from Auschwitz.
In 1948, we helped elect Harry S. Truman, who, true enough, recognized Israel, but who also, immediately upon recognizing the state, embargoed all arms shipments to the Jewish State while knowing fully well that the British and the French had fully armed the Arabs.
Then, in 1977, Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, surprised the whole world when he went to Jerusalem to offer to make peace, and the great "hawk," prime-minister Menakhem Begin delivered the Sinai to the Egyptians as a price and prize of that peace offer. The result was a cold peace, the assassination of Sadat, and the bellicose stance of Egypt and its president, Mubarak.
The leprosy continued to eat the flesh of our youth as Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres came to Washington to sign the Oslo Accords. They were willing to truncate the Land of Israel for peace with Yasser Arafat, as long as there would be no more war, no more killing. Now there are voices in Israel calling us to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, just to avoid another war, just to have peace. Peace in our times... Echos from the past... Leprosy is rampant on every limb of the body Jewry!
So the martyrs of the holocaust, by testimony of "revisionist" historians, were merely unfortunate Jews who became sick and frail because they would not conform to the needs of the Third Reich... And the boys and girls who died to establish and protect the third Jewish commonwealth were misled militarists who robed the Arabs of their homes and farms and cruelly sent them into exile. We deserve what we get, got, and ever will. For we have learned nothing from our history, and Hadassah does not deal with medicine and healing -- not anymore, I guess.
Peter Paul and Mary sang the song, "Where have all the flowers gone. Long time passing... Where have all the flowers gone. Long time ago... Where have all the flowers gone. Young girls picked them every one. When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?"
Oh, Lord, I ask, "When will they ever learn?" When will the leprosy be cured and the body free of sores? When Your kingdom is established, when mankind will learn that truth and justice shall be the hallmarks of Your reign.
Parashat Shmini 5759
In this weeks reading from the Torah, which is in the portion of Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47. What follows has nothing to do with it. I wish to read to you the words spoken very recently by our senator from Florida, Connie Mack.
MR. PRESIDENT, I VERY RECENTLY TRAVELED to Israel. It had been several years. Since my last visit, and I expected this year we would bring some important measures to the Senate floor. The timeline on the Oslo accords expires in May, and Arafat has threatened to unilaterally declare an independent state. The supplemental appropriations for the Wye River accords will soon be before us, and the timetable on the Jerusalem Embassy Act requires that the President report to the Congress why the United States Embassy has not been set up in Israel's capital city, Jerusalem. I learned a great deal during the week and I rise today to share a few simple thoughts regarding what I saw and what went through my mind as the week in Israel unfolded.
Let me begin with the question that is on my mind today: How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who maintain the right to obliterate you, who are filled with hatred toward you, and who harbor the dream of one day destroying your homeland? Peace is a matter of the heart. I believe in the depths of every person's heart is a desire to live in peace. But what I saw, which was the outcome of the Palestinian Authority rule, convinced me that their hearts and minds are set on other goals. The Palestinian leadership does not want peace. They want, first, their own state which they can control with total power. Then they want to use that state to eliminate the State of Israel.
A picture is worth at least a thousand words. Let's be clear. The peace process, to be meaningful, must be about more than rules and laws and lines on a map. We can reach a short-term agreement on these points, but if the Palestinian leadership fails to abandon incitement of hatred, persecution, and terrorism, then we are all dreaming, only dreaming, and our President's behavior must be labeled foolish appeasement. There will not be peace until hearts and minds are changed, and we must focus our attention on these issues. Mr. President, many of my colleagues in the Senate and in the House are aware of the promotion of hatred contained in the Palestinian media, and more significantly in the Palestinian schoolbooks. Let me provide some examples.
This is a picture that was taken off of Palestinian Authority-controlled television. It is a picture of a young girl, probably 6 or 7 years old. This is a young girl singing into a microphone. She is on a television show that would be what we would refer to as kind of a Mickey Mouse Club type of show that would be shown to children by the Palestinian Authority. I want to read to you what this little girl is singing. Again, this is a program that was produced by the people who are sitting across the table from you, supposedly negotiating peace. This is what the little girl is singing:
"When I wander into the entrance of Jerusalem, I'll turn into a suicide warrior in battledress, In battledress. In battledress."
There is no way I can convey to you the emotion of actually seeing that scene on television. There is no way I can put the emotion into what she was expressing and the emotion that she was expressing as she sang those words. And after her song, she got an ovation from her classmates and from her teacher. This focuses us on the fundamental difference in approach between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I have a grandson about that age, about the age of that little girl. How would I feel if he were being taught hatred in school? If he were being taught hatred on television, how would I feel? How would you feel if your Government was teaching your children to hate? Could you conclude that they were serious about long-term peace with their neighbors?
I also have some examples from Palestinian textbooks for a third-grade grammar lesson. Here is the task: Complete the following blank spaces with the appropriate word.' And the sentence is, The Zionist enemy blank civilians with its aircraft.' The correct answer is, The Zionist enemy attacked civilians with its aircraft.' For seventh graders: Answer the following question: Why do the Jews hate Muslim unity and want to cause division among them? Give an example of the evil attempts of the Jews, from events happening today.' These are from Palestinian textbooks today.
One would expect, rather than focus on hatred, if they were serious about peace, they would focus on how the two peoples are working to live side by side. A history book for 12th graders published only last summer teaches: The clearest examples of racist belief and racial discrimination in the world are Nazism and Zionism.'
To see this taking place today is chilling. If you can, think about it in the context of being in Israel and being briefed by a member of the Government with respect to what is happening in what they refer to as the anti-incitement committee, which was set up by the Wye Agreement. To be sitting there and seeing this, I must say to you, was chilling. I found it to be extremely chilling.
While the Government of Israel makes good-faith efforts to come to a peace agreement, the Palestinian Authority teaches children hatred. This causes me to ask, How can peace be obtained when the children are being taught hatred? Let me share another story. I attended Shabbat dinner at the home of Saul and Wendy Singer in Jerusalem. Saul worked on my staff for 7 years before moving with his wife to Israel. They just had their second child, a girl named Tamar.
Wendy told the story of the day she was checking out of the hospital in Jerusalem, 2 days after giving birth. In a very ordinary and matter of fact way, the hospital gave her the necessities for bringing home a newborn baby. In addition to providing for diapers and other things we would expect, she was handed a gas mask for her baby. It is actually a tent which you put your baby under in case of a chemical weapons attack.
In Israel, this preparation is routine. Everyone in Israel knows to have a gas mask ready. It just becomes a part of the craziness of everyday life. But when you bring home a newborn baby, when you bring home your baby and you get the chemical weapons tent at the hospital, then you realize how unordinary life is in Israel today. You realize that you are really simply struggling for a normal life, hoping for peace and security, praying to God, while actually living in a war zone.
I had another profound meeting during this week. I met one evening privately-- secretly--with Arabs who were being persecuted for their Christian faith. I met with about 10 Palestinian Christians. I will tell you just one of their stories, but I will change some of the details to protect the person I am describing.
I remember an energetic man, in his early 40s, at the end of the table. I remember him because he seemed so full of life and love. He had a great smile on his face and displayed a wonderful sense of humor. I say this was memorable because, frankly, after hearing what he had been through, I do not know if I could express the sense of peace and love he did. This is his story.
He had many children and very little money. He converted to Christianity in 1993. He clearly loved God, and he loved to tell people about his conversion. He described to me how in 1997, the Palestinian Authority asked him to come to the police station for questioning. When he arrived, he was immediately arrested and detained on charges of selling land to Jews. He denied this charge, since he was very poor and owned no land. He was beaten. He was hung from the ceiling by his hands for many hours. He showed me what I just said. He showed me how his hands were tied behind his back and then raised from the floor and hung that way for many, many hours.
After 2 weeks, he was transferred to a larger prison where he was held for 8 months without trial. He was released in February 1998, after his family borrowed thousands of dollars to pay off the local authorities. And even though he is free, they are keeping his father in prison. They believe it is for his son's beliefs. He feels his father is being held hostage to prevent him from talking with people about his faith. Needless to say, these Christians met with me at considerable risk. They conveyed to me a message of fear and desperation. But their mere presence in the room with me demonstrated their hope, and it also caused me to ask, how can the people of Israel find peace with the Palestinian Authority while the Palestinian Authority engages in coercion and torture based upon religious beliefs?
I also met with the parents of American children killed by Palestinian terrorists. In this meeting, I was struck by the courage displayed by these families after suffering the tremendous loss of a child brutally murdered. These families told me of the hopes and dreams they had for their children. I couldn't help thinking about my own. My daughter, Debbie, traveled with me on this trip. She was in the room as these stories of brutality and murder were related. There was scarcely a dry eye in the room.
I am sure Debbie was thinking about her three little boys, ages 14, 11 and 5. We were moved by the comments made by the parents as they described to us what had happened.
I understand that the Palestinian Authority knows a great deal about these murderers, but they are not being punished. Some of them have gone to trial and were sentenced, but we don't know if they remain in prison. I was told that we know some have been released.
There are reports that the Palestinian Authority allows them to leave prison each day and return in the evening--like free room and board more than like prison. I was also presented with stories of the lionization of these murderers in the press and again in the classrooms. Try to imagine how you would feel, try to imagine what would be going through your mind when you are dealing with the grief of the loss of your child. You know who is responsible. You know they know who is responsible. You saw them go on trial. You saw them then released. You have to ask yourself, what are we going through this peace process for?
I would like to mention one story of many that I heard. Mrs. Dosberg sat directly across the table from me. When she told us of the loss of her daughter and son-in- law, the lesson of these murders became so clear--we must fight terror and we cannot back off. Mrs. Dosberg's family, her
daughter, American son-in-law, and their 9-month-old daughter attended a wedding in central Israel on June 9, 1996.
They decided not to bring their 2-year-old daughter along. Thank God. On the way home from the wedding they were stopped by Palestinian terrorists and killed in a so-called drive-by shooting. Fifty bullets were found to have been used in this murder, and yet, by some miracle, the baby survived. Even with a crime this gross, the Palestinian Authority did not arrest everyone involved or suspected in the shooting. One of those who remained free, it is believed, later took part in the bombing of the Apropos Cafe, killing many others.
Another suspected killer, according to the Israeli Justice Ministry, was under arrest but given permission to come and go as he pleases from prison. Mohammed Dief, another suspected Palestinian terrorist, took part in the murder of two other Americans, at two different times, according to the mothers with whom I spoke. Mrs. Sharon Weinstock lost her 19-year-old son in
a drive-by shooting masterminded by Dief. And only a year later, Mrs. Wachsman told me of the kidnap-murder of their son, also believed to have been planned by Dief.
I am told Mohammed Dief remains a free man today. The obvious lesson--terrorists kill and those who are not jailed remain free to kill and to kill again thanks to the Palestinian Authority.
How would I feel in their place? I couldn't keep the thought from my mind, as I listened. If I had lost a child and knew that the murderer or accomplices were on the loose, how would I feel? And if I knew the killer remained free to kill other people's children, how would I feel? It is so hard, hard to even consider, but I do know that I left there committed to doing whatever I could to help each of those families.
Once again, I began to better understand the way the Palestinian Authority leadership was approaching peace. How can one find peace with people who do not condemn terrorism? Mr. President, how is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who want to teach their children to die in a holy war against you? How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with
people who persecute those of other faiths? How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who keep terrorists on the loose to wreak havoc and evil against you and praise them for heroism?
Today the Israeli people are exhausted by 50 years of violence against their homes and families, of sending their sons and daughters into the army, and they dream of a promised peace now. This is our hope and our dream as well. But we must not get confused. History is replete with examples of compromises which bring terror and destroy dreams.
In the United States, many people seem to think that if we do not confront these obstacles to peace and if we look the other way, then we will be able to come to an agreement. The reality, however, is just the opposite. If we do not acknowledge the attitudes and acts of those at the peace table, then the peace process is already over, and we just won't admit it.
In other words, the surest way to kill the peace process is to avoid confrontation, to fear upsetting a belligerent force and to avoid addressing incitement, violence, persecution and terrorism. The only way to keep the peace process alive is to focus on truth, freedom, security and justice.
Israeli efforts, to date, have sought to keep the peace process alive, improve security during the negotiating process, and obtain reciprocity as a vital element of implementation.
The process remains alive, but terrorism continues and is exalted by many in the Palestinian Authority, and reciprocity does not exist. The United States role has been to seek the middle ground. Unfortunately, this only rewards those willing to go to new extremes.
The middle ground between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat is not halfway between the two. The United States must not engage in moral equivocation. We must not shy away from holding Arafat responsible for acts of violence, incitement and persecution.
The United States must demonstrate principled leadership and end the appeasement that perpetuates the cycle of violence. The peace process can only work when leaders uphold their agreements and answer to the people, and the United States remains a vigilant defender of the principles which bind us to Israel: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
What should we do? I believe there are three things. First, we should insist upon the strict adherence to Oslo and the reciprocity codified at Wye. The purpose of the Wye accord was at long last to force the Palestinians to comply with commitments before further territory would be turned over.
So at Wye, Israel agreed only to turn over territory in phases, in which it could verify Palestinian compliance at each and every step. In the first phase, Israel completed its redeployment after the Palestinian Authority completed its tasks. In phase 2, the Palestinians did not meet all their
obligations and, therefore, Israel has not yet turned over the additional land. Reciprocity makes no sense unless it is based upon this formulation. Once Israel has ceded territory, it is unlikely it ever could recover it. The Palestinians, on the other hand, can turn on and off their promises. In fact, this is exactly what they have done.
Second, we should stop paying Arafat. Any funds provided to the Palestinian people should continue to go through private voluntary organizations. We should also monitor much more closely the rampant corruption and mismanagement of funds provided currently.
And third, we must aggressively seek the bringing to justice of Palestinian terrorists who killed American citizens. I am told that our Justice Department can do a better job here, that they have a great deal of information on the murderers of the Americans who are free in the Palestinian
areas and, indeed, can make some requests for indictments. It is time to do this. Let's put the needs of the American families and other victims' families over the needs of those engaging in or supporting terrorism.
Mr. President, these are very basic principles. I am not discussing today the intricacies of the peace process, U.S. funding, embassies, or any other number of issues we will be discussing this year in the Senate. We need to focus on a more fundamental level first. And I hope that this message will be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
What I mean when I say this is that I hope the President will hear the message. I say this from a standpoint not of arrogance, not of confrontation, and I do not mean it in a political way. I just hope that the President will listen and take another look at what he and his foreign policy team are trying to force the Israeli Government to do.
There cannot be peace until there is a change of heart. I returned from this trip with a newfound concern for the future of Israel. I saw examples of incitement. I heard examples of persecution and hatred being taught throughout Palestinian society by their leaders. When the people engaged in peace talks return from the negotiating table only to disparage compromise and incite violence, there can be no progress towards peace.
Israel has come a long way since I first began following the fate of this state and the people of Israel. In so many respects, life appears and feels normal. The economy is developing, the standard of living is growing and improving. But just below the surface of this normalcy, Mr. President, Israel still faces a threat to the state's very existence. Israel's survival remains, unfortunately, a very real and central concern 50 years after its independence.
Some people believe, however, that by ignoring this threat, that the peace process can succeed. Mr. President, it will fail. It is clear to me that many in the Palestinian leadership today see the peace process toward the goal of eliminating the State of Israel.
I suggest today that we get back to the basics. Peace is not possible while teaching children to hate and kill. Peace is not possible while persecuting those of other faiths. Peace is not possible while lionizing terrorism. We must stand up for freedom, security, and human dignity. We must stand up to ensure the security of Israel. We must stand up in the Congress, and we must insist that our President stand with us.
Today is the day to end American pressure on Israel to force a peace agreement. Today is the day to remember it is up to the people of Israel to determine their own fate--their own security. We should pressure those who fill children with slogans of hatred and holy war; we should pressure them to change. We should pressure those who torture; we should pressure them to change. We should pressure those who encourage and support terror and murder, and those who rejoice in hatred. That is where the pressure should be.
Now is the time, Mr. President, for a return to our principled stand. The only way to truly attain peace is to support freedom, democracy and justice, and oppose the cycle of hatred. We must face tyranny and oppression where it exists, condemn it, and stand up for peace--real peace based upon security, freedom, and a change of heart.
Sen. Connie Mack
This weeks Sidra is Vayikra, the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which is Leviticus. The English name comes from the Greek, and refers to the Levites, the family of Aaron, the priest. All Cohanim, priests, were, in fact, Levites. In Hebrew the book is also called 'Torat Cohanim,' the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Tabernacle -- and the Temple that came after it, when the Israelites settled in their own land. Now, the word, 'vayikra,' actually means and he called. It is the first word of the verse, "Vayikra el Moshe va'ydaber adona'y elav me'ohel mo'ed le'mor -- And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..." [Lev 1:1]
Many of us have a real problem with the third book of the Torah. We ask, 'who needs to read the rules and instructions Moshe gave the priests? After all, we no longer have a temple, and we don't offer sacrifices -- and if we were going to, God would probably give us a new set of instructions...
To me, the first challenge comes with the very first word -- 'and He called...' It is such an awesome idea! God, almighty creator and master of all there is, calls on someone, on anyone... Oh yes, on every one! That is so incredible, so radical!
Examining the text, we feel a need to ask, 'why does the Torah use two verbs, 'and He called,' "vayikra," 'and He spoke,' "va'ydaber" -- would it not have been sufficient and more economical to say The Lord spoke unto Moses out of the tent of meeting... Our sages gave a number of explanations for the text with its two verbs:
They spoke of Moses, Moshe Rabenu, the great leader and teacher, and his exemplary behavior: Here was this great man, the architect and contractor of the Tabernacle -- and yet, he waited outside this tent, waiting for God to invite him in. They also recalled that there were times when Moshe did not listen to the word of God and acted in a manner that displease the Master of the universe.
They spoke of the teachings of God. They pointed out that God, in all His omnipotence, does not impose Himself suddenly upon mankind. In his very first encounter with man, in the Garden of Eden, after man had eaten of the Forbidden Fruit, we read, "Vayikra adonay elohim el haadam vayomer ayeka... -- And the Lord God called unto the man and said unto him, `where are you?" [Gen. 3:9] When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, he told them to prepare for three days, and when it was time, we read, "Vayered adonay al har Sinai el rosh hahar vayikra adonay el Moshe -- and the Lord came down upon mount Sinai to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses..." [Ex. 19:20] Only after that do we read, "Va'ydaber Adona'y et kol had'varim ha'ele le'mor -- And the Lord spoke all these words, saying..." [Ex. 20:1] Before we can hear, we must be open to the message.
There is a story about a sculptor who was looking for a model for a statue which he wanted to call "Beauty and Goodness." He was searching for a harmony of spirit and body which would make the soul's purity visible through the external form. He found the proper individual at a spirited prayer convocation, and he was sure that he had not erred when this young man requested that any remuneration be given to the poor. A number of years later, the sculptor chanced upon a drunk lying in his own filth. The man looked so hideous that the sculptor was prompted to do a companion piece to his "Beauty and Goodness." Fascinated by the decadence and pathos, the despair and sadness of the face and body of the wretch, the sculptor resolved to call the piece, "Ugliness and Evil." He worked feverishly all night to produce the basis for what he was certain would be another masterpiece. The next morning, when the drunk awoke and the sculptor had him cleaned and dressed as partial payment, imagine his shock on recognizing the same man he had used before!
What happened to the man to turn him from "Beauty and Goodness" to "Ugliness and Evil?" The prophet Isaiah admonishes us, "Dirshu et adona'y behimatz'o kra'uhu b'hiyoto karov -- seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while he is near." [Isaiah 55:6] Is there a time that God hides so that He may not be found? Is there a time when God, who fills the whole universe, is not near enough to hear us? No, indeed! But the prophet wants us to understand that We may be so lost that we cant find Him, we may be so confounded that we no longer know that He is near. Thus Isaiah invites us to open ourselves to Him, if we are to hear his message and receive His blessing. The model for "Beauty and Goodness" was so blessed that he forgot where all his blessings came from. Trusting in himself, he lost the path to God.
God can get along very nicely, thank you, without any human contact, without our hymns, prayers or sacrifices. We, in 1999, frown on the very concept of sacrifices -- and we have forgotten the feeling of being close God -- so that we can hear Him. Given enough time to lose ourselves, and enough rope -- we hang ourselves. Enter "Ugliness and Evil." Same face, same body -- minus God!
Sacrifices were replaced by prayer. However, the purpose of prayer is not to give us a chance to ask God for things, be they success in business or in love, recovery from a dreaded disease, a good grade on an exam or something as unimportant as a new car, luck or what we call happiness. We need to pray, as our ancestors offered sacrifices, to be close to Him. To share with him not only our anxiety but our well-being. In days gone by, Jews would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, changing their daily routine by doing so. They would offer a gift to God -- a cow, a heifer or a sheep. They would make a meal with the priests and the Levites, before God. They would dedicate the meal, and they would rediscover themselves thereby -- which means that they opened themselves to the experience. We dedicate nothing. We pray in a hurry, eat in a hurry, love our families in a hurry.
We squeeze the lemon and toss it in the can. The Torah, in the third book, teaches us to take time out to be with God, to be with our people, yes, even to be with ourselves. It teaches us that unless we hear the call -- we will never hear the speech. Unless we open our eyes, we shall never see the glory of Gods presence, and unless we tune in to Gods frequency we shall miss the sound of His splendid symphony of love and harmony. We shall not be a part of His marvelous creation. Without the glory of His presence among us, we are lost. We are no longer unique. "Beauty and Goodness" becomes "Ugliness and Evil!"
We are taught the same lesson in the first words of the first prayer of our people: Shema Yisrael -- Hear Oh Yisrael... We must never forget that to hear God we must first hear his call -- for he is calling -- and we must hearken to His voice. Hear the call, and respond with our own Hineni -- here I am, Lord! Clear, loud, sure and resonant -- affirming the past, enriching the present, and building for the future.
It is not every year that we have a Shabbat between the Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Now that the High Holidays are over, thank God, we can look with satisfaction on the concentrated effort we have made to come close to the Rock of our being, the Source of our very existence. We have stood in His court, and we feel good, knowing, or at least hoping in our hearts that He has forgiven us and sealed us in the book of life and happiness, the book of satisfaction and achievements. It is in this mood that we gather in the synagogue to celebrate the Shabbat before Khag Hasukkot the Festival commemorating our miraculous survival in the desert during our travel and travail on the way to the promised land... We recall our own passage and travail of the past ten days, the uncertainty, the hunger for His compassion.
This Shabbat we shall listen to the reading in the Torah, one portion before the end of the fifth book. It is a song: Moshes "swan song." Moshe the Liberator and Lawgiver, Moshe Rabenu, the Master, suddenly turns poet... The thirty second chapter of Deuteronomy begins with words that flow like honey: "Haazinu hashamayim vaadabera, vetishma haaretz imrey fi. Yaarof kamatar likkhi, tizal katal imrati. Kisirim aley deshe, ukhirevivim aley esev. Ki shem Adonay ekra, havu godel leloheynu. Hatzur tamim poolo ki khol derakhav mishpat, el emuba veeyn avel, tzadik veyashar hu. Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he;" Oh, how we love to hear this song. Moshe Rabenu, this great man, who took us out of Egyptian slavery and brought us to our appointment with God at Sinai, makes our inheritance sound as great and as valuable as any one of us would like it to be.
But then, as we read on, suddenly and without a word of warning, he turns on us, as he continues his sweet sounding rhyme, "Shikhet lo banav mumam, dor ikesh uptaltal yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him, a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the Lords own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share. He sustained him in a desert land, in a howling wilderness waste; he shielded him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him; no foreign god was with him. He set him atop the heights of the land, and fed him with produce of the field; he nursed him with honey from the crags, with oil from flinty rock; curds from the herd, and milk from the flock, with fat of lambs and rams; Bashan bulls and goats, together with the choicest wheat you drank fine wine from the blood of grapes."
What has happened to our beloved shepherd? Why has Moshe, who fought with God Himself to preserve the People Israel, now turn on them? His prophetic eye beholds the future of this people he has guided and taught, chided and cajoled. He knows their nature, and God has revealed to him their coming transgressions. He sees that "Jacob ate his fill; Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked. You grew fat, bloated, and gorged! He abandoned God who made him, and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. They made him jealous with strange gods, with abhorrent things they provoked him. They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities they had never known, to new ones recently arrived, whom your ancestors had not feared." He knows that there is no escaping the wrath of God which this behavior will bring. It is in the pain of a father for his children that Moses informs Israel, "The Lord saw it, and was jealous he spurned his sons and daughters. He said: I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children in whom there is no faithfulness."
Knowing the full might of the Lord, and the depth of His anger and wrath, Moses foresees that God will punish our future generations more severely than He has done to the time of Moshes rhapsodizing. Still, he wishes to plant within us an unending hope of redemption. God will be punishing Israel to teach them a lesson, He says, "See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand." Moshe concludes the words of his poem with a final exhortation to Israel: "Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today; give them as a command to your children, so that they may diligently observe all the words of this law. This is no trifling matter for you, but rather your very life; through it you may live long in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess."
Moshe is done his "song" has been sung. There is nothing left for him to do but to leave the camp of the Israelites, to go into the hills and die and be buried by his able assistant and heir, Joshua. There will be no grave to make into a shrine. Moshe, eved Elohim the Servant of god, broken hearted and yet hopeful, leaves the stage, as we all must do, to allow the next cast of heroes and villains to take up the drama where he leaves off. His role is done, his act of over but the plays not done! Shabbat will be followed by Sukkot, which will be followed by Simkhat Torah. What was shall be again, we shall recommence the reading of the Torah, and all that is old shall be new again. That is the secret of Israels survival. We go on, life goes on, and the saga continues to this day! With Gods help and Israels perspicacity, it shall continue for another thousand generations.
This week's reading from the Torah begins with the following words: "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'This shall be the Torah of the metzora (leper) in the day of his cleansing; He shall be brought to the priest; And the priest shall go out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the disease of leprosy is healed in the leper..." [Leviticus 14:1-3]
As I mentioned last week, although it has a physical manifestation, to be sure, the Talmudic tradition insists that "nega tzara'at" -- the plague of leprosy mentioned in the Torah is primarily spiritual in nature. Hence the word used to describe the stricken person, 'metzora,' is phonetically connected to the expression 'motzi ra' -- one who spreads evil or slander - to cause a blemish upon the name of the subject of the slander. As a consequence of spreading lies that tear at the very fabric of life and the structure of society, one should be declared a pariah, and cut off from humanity. Hence this Torah mentioned "leprous state" contains a crucial message and a moral lesson.
We are celebrating today a special shabbat, called "Shabbat hagadol -- the Great Sabbat," which is the Shabbat before the Night of the Passover and the Festival of our departure from Egypt. One may find a relation between the events in Egypt and the subject in the Torah. Israel's slavery in Egypt was precipitated by a case of "motzi ra" -- slander. You may recall that the Israelites were faithful, productive sojourners in Egypt when the new Pharaoh conspired to enslave them by falsely accusing them of lack of faith: "Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it may come to pass, that, when there would be any war, they should join our enemies, and fight against us; and so get them out of the land." [Ex. 1:10] The Israelites suffered greatly as a result of this slander, and, in time, so did Pharaoh and his people. The end result of his break of faith, his hotza'at ra -- was a bad tenfold plague that makes leprosy seem like a case of the common cold.
Leprosy is just about wiped out in our days. Gone are the leper colonies, gone is the fear of the dreaded sores that fester and ooze before drying out and leaving a gap in the flesh, a distortion in bones, and disfiguring in the visage of the afflicted. Yet, the spiritual leprosy of old is alive and well -- and it enjoys a great resurgence in our two favorite societies: our dear homeland, the United States -- and our precious State of Israel. It seems that anyone who is a public servant is taken for a rogue, a potential threat to the welfare of the state and its citizens. Our president, Mr. Bill Clinton, has been investigated over allegations of misconduct going back to his grade school activities, it would seem. The prime minister of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu, is in water even deeper than the president. Even before he was elected (with a larger majority of the electorate than Clinton) he was already being called everything from neophyte to charlatan.
This attack on the leaders of the two democratic states, the U.S. and Israel, makes it possible for its enemies and detractors to attack it from the outside and threaten its very existence. To be sure, we don't see, we don't consider possible, a danger to the U.S. -- the strongest, most successful nation state in all of history. How can anything or anyone threaten US? Yet, threatened we are! In the international arena of trade and commerce, other nations attack us by price fixing and cheap labor achieved through crimes against humanity -- by slave labor and child labor, by shoddy work and by out and out theft -- knock-off of American products without payment of patent or copy rights.
In the case of Israel, the attack on Benyamin Netanyahu from within the country sets the stage for our enemies to refuse to deal with the legitimate government of Israel on the pretext of a lack of confidence in a government led by a "radical," "ultranationalist," "fanatical," "chauvinistic," "opportunistic" and principle lacking chief. As if the heads of states of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia -- not to mention Iraq and Iran -- are paragons of virtue, men of undisputed clean record in their personal dealings and their public life record. Yasser Arafat, that old fox whose claws still drip with the blood of innocent chicks, killed in the peace-loving, peace-seeking hen house of Israel is allowed to point a finger and threaten the remnant of two thousand years of suffering from the leprosy of others. The world, it seems to me, is festering with leprosy! Surely this is a time for a change. Thank God, oh yes, thank God for the rainbow! For if God had not made a covenant with the sons of Noah never to bring another deluge upon this world -- I, for one, would start building an ark!
So, is my message today a message of doom?
You know it is not! There is hope for the future! This is what it means to be a Jew. When the night is darkest, we look for the crack of dawn. When it seemed that all is lost, in the pit of death of the holocaust our brethren sang together, "Ani ma'amin be'emuna shlema be'vi'at hamashiakh. Ve'af al pi sheyitmah'ma -- im kol zot ani ma'amin! I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And though he may delay, nonetheless I believe." Well, things are definitely not as bad as they were at the time of the holocaust! We do have our precious state, and we have a freely elected government that continues to conduct the affairs of our nation to the best of their ability. We have a safe haven in the United States, where we have a history of a couple of centuries of living as free and equal citizens -- free to worship as we please, integrated in the life of the general population.
We are about to celebrate Pesakh, the time of our freedom. I remember so vividly the Pesakh of 1948 -- a mere fortnight before the declaration of Israel's independence. We were seated together, men and women and children, some one hundred of us, in a large room in Talpiyot, a suburb in south Jerusalem cut off from the city, in a siege within a siege. We had had a number of skirmishes with Arab marauders, and we knew that soon the British would depart from Jerusalem, and the real battle would erupt. We also knew that the Arabs outnumbered us by more than ten to one, and they were better armed. Still, we were far from desperate. In fact, our spirits were soaring as we sang, "vehi she'amda" -- it is this which stood for our fathers and for us -- for not only once, but in every generation there are those who wished to destroy us; and the Holy One, Blessed be He, ever saves us from their hand. We recalled the words of the 121 Psalm, "A Song of Maalot. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who watches you will not slumber. Behold, he who watches Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade upon your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; he shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and for evermore." This is the time of our deliverance, the time when the Lord, in His own Personhood and Might came down to strike the first born of all Egypt, to redeem Israel and take it "me'avdut lekherut" -- from slavery to freedom! This is no time for despair and defeat. This is a time of celebration and rededication. This is the time to recall yet another passage from our Scriptures: "So let all your enemies perish, O Lord; but let those who love him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might." [Judges 5:31] Amen!