This week Jews around the world begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, called Numbers in English, but more appropriately Bamidbar, in the wilderness, in Hebrew. “It describes a people wandering through a spiritual as well as a geographic wilderness,” says the Etz Hayyim chumash.
Today, we find ourselves in another spiritual wilderness, as rockets rain down on Israel and the responding bombs destroy entire buildings in Gaza. The Jewish people are now 73 years into the enterprise of nationhood in the “new home” to which we were headed some three millennia ago.
Throughout our history, we have striven with neighbors large and small, each seemingly determined to destroy us. No wonder the first thing that happens in Bamidbar is a census of men age 20 and above, old enough to fight in an army.
The violence in Israel today is appalling. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are launching thousands of rockets from Gaza meant as much to terrify Israeli citizens as to kill them. The barrage is indiscriminate. Israel is indeed a Jewish state, but some 20 percent of her citizens are Christian, Bahai, Muslim, Druse, and yes, Arab.
I know that the issues behind the violence are not simple. But normal, every-day people, no different from you and me, are on both sides of this conflict, and are dying on both sides. Their homes are being destroyed, their children terrified, their lives disrupted.
A completely unexpected and new terror has emerged, with neighbors turning on neighbors. My friend Rabbi Elaine Glickman wrote, “Violence and bloodshed have spilled into once-peaceful neighborhoods. In cities where Arabs and Jews live side-by-side, shop windows have been smashed, synagogues set ablaze, historic sites vandalized. Jews and Arabs have been stabbed and beaten.”
None of this is acceptable. I am an American Rabbi who loves my own nation and Israel, and I stand with both. I did not turn my back on the United States when I disagreed strenuously with those who were leading our government. I will not turn my back on Israel in her time of distress and need, regardless of how she deals with this situation, today or in the future.
But that does not mean that my heart is not breaking when I see the destruction in Israel and Gaza, the sobbing children, the families displaced from homes that are now rubble. I am a Rabbi, and for me, that means caring indiscriminately. My concern is both macro and micro, global and human. I am here to serve my Jewish community and I am here to stand for all humans.
Today, I pray for peace. I pray for compassion. I pray for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop their murderous intent. I pray that the Palestinian people understand that it is their own leaders who are their true enemy. I pray that Jews and Arabs in Israel will stop seeing each other as different. I pray. I hope. I weep. And I pray yet again.
I pray for Isaiah’s prediction to come true, that nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
My most fervent prayer? That they not stop at turning weapons of war into farm implements, but that they go one step further, and turn them into musical instruments. Only when we can sing together, make music together, stand shoulder to shoulder as neighbors, can we achieve peace.
Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem; “May those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels.”Psalm 122:6-7