Word for the Herd: Torah from your favorite teacher
We've started the last book of the Torah this week, Devarim or Deuteronomy. Devarim דְּבָרִים means spoken things. Deuteronomy means the second law, and it's because in this book Moshe repeats the 10 Commandments to the C-O-I. But this book of spoken things starts off with a very dark cloud hanging. The C-O-I aren't rejoicing after being freed from slavery. Oh no. A lot of time has passed.
Moshe is is old and dying. Moshe knows he has to step down from being the leader and will never enter the promised holy land. Beyond that, he's been dealing with whinny complaining disobedient people. THE C-O-I have already faced fighting and are about to embark on several battles with their neighbors. Their trials of the desert and wilderness are just evolving, but not disappearing. And Moshe knows that these people are still barely a united front.
There's a lot to focus on here. Why are we going to have a repeat of the same laws? What will get the C-O-I thru this hard transition? How will they make it without Moshe?
Earlier in the portion Moshe calls up to his people and says:
12. How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself? יב. אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם:
It is heart breaking to hear that Moshe feels so troubled and burdened by the C-O-I. They are so disobedient, so hard on him as a leader and perhaps have caused him to miss out on ever getting into Canaan. We see that Moshe feels alone. And if Moshe, the leader and confidant to G-d himself isn't feeling taken care of, how can we expect the Israelites to feel good and comfortable. It sounds like Moshe isn't only frustrated, he's scared and alone. He has to go on to continue to describe all the battles that they will encounter and his feeling of being LEVAD, alone is palpable.
The text I put at the top of this entry is really the point of what we have to keep in mind as a mantra. When the going gets tough we have to remind ourselves we are in it together. And beyond that, we are protected from above. Essentially the message is "Do not be afraid because God is fighting for us, along side us."
The way we approach our fears when we move on to a new chapter in life (Middle School/HighSchool/College/Work)..... the way we open a chapter of a book... they are all related. We all have to go through hard times as Jewish People; as a nation that constantly faces persecution or hardships, knowing the hardships will only continue to come can get overwhelming. It is hard not to have anxiety about the unknown, the changes that lie ahead, and ultimately the threats in the world. For the C-O-I it was battle, and for Israelis not much has changed. There is a brutal war going on with soldiers dying every day. What is the cure for fear? Knowing that G-d is by your side.
But for us Jews in America, our fears and worries are about ourselves. I think we are weaker than Israelis--- we don't know how to fight our enemies... .The fear to fight... The fear to start.... And the fear to fail. We all have fear. May Hashem guide us on the battle fields, wherever we find them.
This week's parsha, is Masei. It outlines what places the C-O-I (Children of Israel) traveled thru the desert and camped out in the desert, where the boundaries of the promised land were to be and where the C-O-I were to go as refugees. And I sure can relate to the subject matter this week on many levels.
Being a refugee is no foreign topic for the Jewish People. Today in Israel, many of my family and friends have been uprooted in these last few days. Those who lived in the South are spending their days in bomb shelters because they only get 15 seconds warning when there are terrorist rocket attacks... sadly that happens more than 30 times a day. Some of my friends have been drafted or called up from reserves to serve in the army again, so they are on the base. Some of my American friends were stranded in Israel when the FAA banned all flights to and from Israel this week. And of course, I feel for all the innocent Palestinian families who have had to leave their homes because of the war in Gaza and how unsafe Hamas has made Gaza for them to live in.
I can't help but even think of my great great grandparents as refugees from Europe when I re-read the parsha this week. My relatives on both sides of my family escaped the horrible persecution Jewish people faced in Europe in the late 1800's and early 1900's by either going to America or to Israel (well then it was called Palestine because Israel was founded in 1948). Lucky for my family, they managed to find a new home and jobs when they were on the run. History has taught us that most Jews on the run in the 1900's were trapped in Europe, leading to the death of 6 million of our people who had no place to go.
To be accurate, the refugee situation HaShem was talking about was a little different, though. They were actually for people who were accused of crimes and at risk of being judged before they had a trial.
What was HaShem teaching us about being a refugee? After listing all the different places the C-O-I camped for a small time, at most year or two, we all can relate to not having a home. We know how difficult it is to being on the run. We know how hard it is to have a homeland in site but not have it In some way, all Jewish people have been refugees. From Egypt. From Spain. Europe. Even cast out from eachother --- We've all been unfairly accused of something in their lives, driven out of their homes for no reason. HaShem was teaching us, that all of us have natural human rights. Even people who are accused of things, deserve a fair trial, and a safe place to be before they are judged. Part of being Jewish is understanding that judging someone should only be reserved for HaShem and our appointed leaders---and in the meantime we have to keep all people's rights sacred.
Speaking of understanding the importance of a homeland...... This parsha again lays out why it is so important that we have Israel. Israel is the only place in the world designated to be for the Jewish people. After listing all the places we had to trek thru to reach our precious land, we see another reason why the Israeli Army (IDF) is fighting so hard these last 18 days of Operation Defensive Shield. They have to protect Israel for all the inhabitants and Jewish people around the world. We have no other choice. We will not be without a home again.
I just got back from one of the most spiritual trips of my life to Israel and it makes little sense to know that the family and friends I visited with less than one month ago NOW have only 15-90 seconds to find shelter from falling rockets from Hamas. I was just in these cities praying, relaxing, shopping, touring and learning and now there is a war, where my relatives and friends are being called back up for service, are terrorized by alarms, sirens, and feel morbidly guilty for the loss of human life on the Palestinian side that is seemingly necessary to protect them from raining fire.
It is no wonder that I’m effected by the current Israeli-Hamas conflict that has erupted over the last few weeks. Just take a look at these pictures above. These are kids at their summer-camp, during a code-red siren, hovering on the floor, preparing for a rocket explosion. Some are pictures a friend of mine took of rockets in her backyard or right by her work. This is what the IRON DOME missile defense system looks like when it shoots down and intercepts Hamas missiles and rockets with direct precession. This is what an air strike looks like in Gaza.
Besides talking to my Israeli friends and family and trying to make them feel supported, loved and distracted from this intense situation, here in the USA I’m constantly talking about the news. My roommate listens to me tirade against the US leadership for pressuring Israel. My co-workers patiently listen as I explain the day’s attacks and developments. My mother and I post relentlessly on social media to help get the word out to Jews and Non-Jews alike about how Israel tries to preserve human life while Hamas’ goal is to destroy.
If you can’t serve to protect, you can help spread the truth and you can help make those under-fire feel like they aren’t alone.
Last night I spoke with an interfaith couple at an Upper West Side restaurant. They wanted to know what I think of everything going on with the Middle East, as I had just gotten back from the land and I’m a teacher. They both suggested that Israel should go into Gaza already with a full ground invasion and obliterate every last Palestinian. They are entitled to their opinion but they are of course wrong.
Israel is a Jewish Homeland. More than that, it is the only nation in the Arab Middle East that has religious freedom. It is a land full of secular and religious people, but built on the values of those who survived oppression and violence. Israel can and will do the right thing to win against terror…. Whatever it is, it will not just be to obliterate the Palestinians. Gaza’s population has a right to exist non-violently, and if we “kill them all” we will be just as bad as those who sought to wipe us off the planet. Israel will protect the land for the Jewish people, but that includes keeping the world opinion of Israel high. We must continue attempts to restore peace in the land.
I have grown my opinion about everything largely through my best friend, Noa. If you know me, you remember when I brought 20lbs of custom M&M’s to her wedding in Israel, of you’ve met her when she went to elementary school in the states or when she’s come to visit me several times. Noa is a brilliant, beautiful and patient woman. She is the daughter of an Ambassador in Israel’s Foreign Ministry and wife of a businessman who was immediately drafted to serve in Gaza again. She wrote me this:
“I think the main message is that although we are at war, civilians in Israel feel very protected. That’s why we continue our lives…. Go to work, Summer camps, weddings... everything is normal. This sense of protection is because the government of Israel and the IDF work non-stop to protect us. The Iron Dome is THE example for that: A project that took years to develop and now in real time, its saving our lives. The budget for the Iron Dome was given by the USA and that is why we need the continued support of our greatest ally. It is why the only tragic pictures are seen from the Palestinian side. Hamas is not protecting the Palestinians, only using them as human shields.”
Please do what you can to show your support. Am Yisrael Chai.