The Perfect Pharaonic Storm

As we prepare to celebrate the defeat of Pharaoh and the liberation of our ancestors, my heart is extremely heavy.  Over the past two weeks, I have become increasingly alarmed by what appears to be a blatant attempt by Washington to strong arm Israel into conceding land, security, and prisoners to the Palestinians. Washington began this attempt last week, attacking Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu for building in Jerusalem.  After the White House publicly, repeatedly,   and harshly asserted that this building was severely threatening the peace process and the US-Israel relationship, many, including some of the White House’s closest supporters, urged the President and his administration to tone down the rhetoric and criticism of Israel.  Our own Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, reminded the world that within days of the White House’s chastising of Israel, Islamic militants began, once again, to fire missiles into Israel – killing a man.  Referring to the White House’s condemnation of Israel, Wasserman-Schultz asserted that: “excessively rehashing this incident is to our own and the world’s detriment. The more we continue to dwell on it, the more time will pass in which Iran moves forward in its attempt to acquire a nuclear weapon.” Along the same lines, the incoming President of AIPAC and a staunch supporter of the President, Lee Rosenberg, stated this week: “History shows that when America pressures Israel publicly, it provides an opportunity for those who wish to derail the peace process to have their way…Israel is not the problem. Israel is America’s partner.”

Despite the outpouring of support for Israel by many in Washington, relations between the White House and Israel have deteriorated over the past few days.  During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, the White House was adamant that Netanyahu issue a public statement announcing the end of all Jewish construction in East Jerusalem.  In addition, the White House wants Israel to offer additional concessions to appease the Palestinians, including the release of Palestinian prisoners and a willingness to discuss the borders of Israel, including the division of Jerusalem, in upcoming talks.  Netanyahu returned to Israel yesterday without meeting any of the President’s demands that were presented to him in a series of meetings that were not characteristic of meetings between two allied nations.  Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu had left Washington “disgraced and isolated” after White House meetings that usually involved some pomp and circumstance, press, and photographs. “Instead of a reception as a guest of honor, Netanyahu was treated as a problem child, an army private ordered to do laps around the base for slipping up at roll call.”  Some report that the President went so far as to “dump” Netanyahu with his aids while he returned to the private residence for dinner.  As the Jerusalem Post reported last night, the way the Prime Minister was treated “created the impression of a deep crisis in relations…Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arm’s length.”  Most reports suggest that President Obama is intentionally trying to isolate Prime Minister Netanyahu in an effort to get him to meet Washington’s demands.  Obama has given Netanyahu until Saturday to meet these demands – some of which are unknown at this time.  Saturday’s deadline works well for the President as he would like to present Israel’s “commitment to peace” to the Arab League which is meeting in Libya this weekend.

As Wasserman-Schultz and Rosenberg alluded to in their statements, the United States’ public animosity towards Israel has seemingly opened the floodgates to anti-Israel sentiment.  It is no coincidence that the President’s attempt to isolate Israel took place during the same week that Britain expelled,  and France and Australia planned to expel, Israeli diplomats over the alleged use of forged passports by suspected killers of a Hamas commander in Dubai earlier this year.  Not only has there been no forensic evidence that links Israel to the killing of the Hamas operative, but Hamas leaders assert that the security forces of an Arab state were behind the assassination of their commander.  As the floodgates have been opened, none of this seems to matter.

Also this week, the infamous United Nations Human Rights Council (of “Goldstone Report” fame) passed three resolutions that condemn Israel’s “grave human rights violations” in the West Bank and Gaza and call on Israel to pull out of territory claimed by the Palestinians; call on Israel to stop settlement building and evacuate existing settlements; and condemn Israel for the “systematic violation of the rights of the people of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.  A resolution passed Thursday called on Israel to compensate Palestinians in Gaza for damage and loss incurred during Operation Cast Lead.  Israel has been censured by the council, which was formed in 2006, more times than any other country in the world.

As they were condemning Israel, the UN Human Rights Council was using its website to promote anti-semitic propaganda that asserts that Israel steals and sells the organs of Palestinian.  This week, documents from the “International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination” (EAFORD) which accuse the Israeli military, physicians and medical centers of taking organs from Palestinians and selling them on the black market have been posted on the UN Human Rights Council’s website in anticipation of the Council’s 13th session later this month in Geneva.

Closer to home, this week we have watched how easily we are influenced by the propaganda of anti-Israel media.  I was truly disturbed by what appeared to be another “blame Israel” accusation made by US General David Petraeus.  Written statements attributed to Petraeus asserting that America’s relationship with Israel has created a security nightmare for the US that has led to casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were distributed across the globe earlier this week.  Yesterday, however, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JISNA) reported that the statements were false. However the damage is done.  Those who want to blame Israel for the death of our soldiers now have the erroneous statements to use as ammunition. This incident shows us how easily the international climate that is fostering the “blame Israel” mentality can fan the flames of propaganda.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Pesah and the liberation of our ancestors, it is hard not to dwell on what appears to be a Pharaonic storm brewing against Israel. As we dwell on this storm, others have been dwelling on painting Israel as the obstacle standing in the way of peace.  Debbie Wasserman-Schultz warned us against all of this “dwelling”, stating that “the more we continue to dwell on (Israel building in Jerusalem), the more time will pass in which Iran moves forward in its attempt to acquire a nuclear weapon.”  Indeed, as we have been “dwelling”, the United States has yet again turned a blind eye to one of the real sources of violence and hatred in the Middle East – Iran.  This week, the U.S has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions – and history tells us how ineffective Security Council resolutions are.

During Pesah, we read about Moses’ determination and commitment to his people.  Time after time, Moses goes to Pharaoh, demanding that he stop persecuting the people of Israel and set them free.  And time after time, despite promising to liberate the Jews, Pharaoh continues to hold the people of Israel captive.  But Moses never gives up.  He keeps standing up for his people.  He does so until Pharaoh and his armies are defeated.  My heart is heavy.  But, I plan to let Moses’ determination inspire me this Pesah.  We have survived as a people because within each of us is the spark of Moses, that part of us that is not afraid to stand up for the people of Israel, that part of us that says “dayenu” – “enough is enough.”

I pray that the story of Pesah ignites the spark of Moses within each of us.  I pray that this spark gives us, the modern “people of Israel”, the strength to work together to turn many in our nation and in the global community away from scapegoating Israel and towards the true, modern “Pharaoh” – Iran and other nations and organizations that support Islamic terror. This is an overwhelming task.  But, the story of Pesah reminds us that it can be done.

Sources:

White House Meetings:

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136728  http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/03/25/1011347/white-house-still-dsiagreements-with-israel

Lack of Media Coverage at White House:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD9ELOI6G0

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1159174.html http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=171846

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7076431.ece

Information on Killing of Hamas Commander:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1153316.html

UNHRC:

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/03/25/1011370/unhcr-passes-resolutions-condemning-israel

http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/category/eaford/

General Petraeus:

http://www.jinsa.org/node/1337

US and Iran Sanctions: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iPp6b61b-BhriB3rHZVfWAapAz2g

What Can We Learn From Handwriting?

Sorry I haven’t posted in a bit. This link will lead you to the video of last Friday night’s D’var Torah which focused upon the way certain letters in the Torah are written. Last Shabbat, we started reading Vayikra (Leviticus). The last letter of “vayikra” is much smaller than the other letters. What does this teach us? Click here to find out! Enjoy.

CURRENT ISRAEL-U.S. CRISIS

During Vice-President Biden’s trip to Israel last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government announced that new homes will be built for Jews living in East Jerusalem. President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and other U.S. officials have all insisted that this announcement embarrassed the U.S. and seriously strained U.S.- Israeli relations.  The U.S. leaders who have spoken out against the announcement insist that East Jerusalem is an area in which Israel should not be building.  They argue that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights are Israeli “settlements”, Israeli communities built on disputed land – land captured by Israel during wars designed to annihilate the Jewish State. Many assert that since Israel justifiably obtained these “settlements” during attacks on her sovereignty, they are legitimately part of the modern State of Israel.  Israelis consider the entire city of Jerusalem – both the eastern and western portions – to be the capital of their nation.  However, it is clear that some of the most powerful U.S. leaders and many other leaders in the international community consider East Jerusalem and the other “settlements” to be under Israeli “military occupation” and, therefore, not truly part of State of Israel.

The status of settlements, particularly the right of Israel to build in and expand existing settlements, is an issue with a complicated history. Jewish settlements in areas like Jerusalem and the West Bank have existed from time immemorial.  In the “Mandate for Palestine”, the document adopted by the League of Nations that provided for a Jewish State in the Jewish ancestral homeland, Jewish settlements were not only recognized, they were encouraged.  Much later, in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements were still not considered to be a violation. In 2002, however, the “Road Map for Peace” required Israel to freeze all settlement activity – meaning that settlements could not expand in size even if their population increased as a result of “natural growth”.  While Israel accepted the “Road Map” in 2003, she did so with “14 Reservations” which were to be incorporated into the “Road Map”.  The “Reservations” left the matter of expanding existing settlements unresolved.  This and many other matters were to be addressed at the “final status” negotiations that were to take place during the last phase of the peace process.  From a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Sharon, it appears that President Bush, who was intricately involved in the “Road Map”, understood the challenges of denying Israel the right to develop existing settlements: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete” transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians.  In another letter, Dov Weissglas, the Chief of Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau, wrote to Condoleezza Rice making it clear that the Bush Administration accepted the fact that existing settlements will indeed expand within “the existing construction line”.  Furthermore, Prime Minister Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, stressed that: “it was clear from day one to Abbas, Rice and Bush that construction would continue in population concentrations (like East Jerusalem).”

With the understanding that settlement expansion was permitted, Israel entered into the “Road Map”, which required the Palestinian community to establish an unconditional cessation of terror attacks against Israel.  While these attacks did not stop, in 2005, all settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank were forcibly evacuated by the Israeli military.  Sadly, this goodwill gesture had disastrous effects on Israel.  As Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, chaos overtook the area and Hamas rose to power.  As a result, terrorists determined to destroy Israel were easily able to use Gaza as a launching site for rockets aimed at Israeli towns.  These rocket attacks became so severe that Israel was forced to respond, which she did at the end of 2008.  This response, known as Operation Cast Led, evoked international criticism epitomized by the misleading Goldstone Report.  In an attempt to protect herself from terrorists who were emboldened by the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel was unfairly labeled as the “aggressor”.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians have yet to live up to their end of the “Road Map”: the cessation of terror.

In 2009, President Obama demanded a complete freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In response to this, in December of 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month freeze on new home construction in the West Bank settlements – a gesture intended to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. The Prime Minister, however, made it explicitly clear that the freeze would not affect East Jerusalem, saying: “we do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital.” Israel has never suggested that East Jerusalem might be given to the Palestinians in a final agreement. As the Prime Minister just pointed out this week, “over the past 40 years, there has not been a government in Israel that agreed to limit building in Jerusalem.”

Despite apologies from Prime Minister Netanyahu who has admitted, rightfully so, that the timing of the housing announcement was terrible, U.S. officials continue to refer to the announcement as destructive to U.S.-Israel relations and the entire peace process.  This weekend, U.S. Press Secretary Gibbs went so far as to suggest that it is time for the Prime Minister to bring something constructive to the negotiating table.  In response to this, I share with you the words that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before the UN last year: “Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace.   We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat.  We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein.” In addition, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza.  She has exchanged thousands of Palestinian prisoners for the bodies of two kidnapped soldiers and still waits for the return of Gilad Shalit. She has put up with years of terrorism and mourned countless innocent lives taken by rockets, stabbings, and bombs.  She has put up with the unfair attacks by the international community who denounce her while turning a blind eye to the violence of terrorists. She has sat on her hands as Iran continues to fund these terrorists and build their own nuclear bomb. But despite all of this, Israel is still willing to say loudly and clearly: “we want peace!”

Given all of this, why is Israel now being labeled by the U.S. as the one jeopardizing the peace process?  No question, the announcement to build homes within the boundaries of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, within an area that Israel has never agreed to stop building in, should not have been made during Vice-President Biden’s visit.  But, this error does not warrant Israel being labeled by the U.S. as the enemy, undermining the peace process! Again, the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“If the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace.  But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace.  In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and an Arab state.  The Jews accepted that resolution.  The Arabs rejected it.   We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years:  Say yes to a Jewish state.  Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people.   The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel.   This is the land of our forefathers.”

Sadly, many of those who are going to jump on the bandwagon and attack Israel for continuing to build where she has the right to build are just looking for an excuse to bash Israel.  I share my thoughts today not to change their mind.  I know better.  Rather, I share my thoughts with the hope that those searching for the truth might stumble across this letter.  If that is you, I ask that you appreciate the fact that while Israel is far from perfect (there is no perfect country!), she has taken drastic steps towards peace.  The Palestinians, however, have yet to state that Israel has the right to exist.  You can’t make peace with a partner that is non-existent.  Who is undermining the peace process?  Be upset at the poor timing of Israel’s announcement – but don’t make Israel the bad guy because of this.  Don’t demand, as Washington officials are now doing, that Israel cancel the East Jerusalem construction project and free Palestinian prisoners as a “confidence building measure”!  Don’t assert, as the Vice-President did, that Israel’s decision to build in East Jerusalem puts American troops abroad at risk. Israel’s enemies love words like this as they support the lie that Israel is the enemy. Whether it be a growing Israeli population that needs additional homes, a strong American military committed to bringing a comprehensive peace to areas like Iraq or anything else that shows Muslim extremists that they have not been successful in undermining the “Zionist” and American enemy enrages them and, in turn, puts our soldiers at risk.  Is Israel to stop growing simply because the enemy wants this growth to stop?  I don’t think our soldiers would want us to hinder the growth of our ally any more than they would want us to weaken our troops.  This would allow the terrorists to declare victory.

Might I suggest that the anger that our leaders are directing at Israel be directed towards the leaders of Iran, Hamas, Al Qaeda and all the other extremists who consistently violate international law, seek to build true weapons of mass destruction, and commit themselves to jihad and the murder of countless souls across the globe.  These are the people who are undermining peace.  These are the people we should be condemning.  Why can they continuously fail to live up to their responsibilities, yet the world does little to reprimand, condemn or correct them?

In response to the current administration’s blistering attack on Israel, Representative Shelly Berkley (D, Nev.) asks:  “Where, I ask, was the administration’s outrage over the arrest and month long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms smuggling into Gaza?  Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel?  It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.”

Please do not let Israel become the scapegoat – the reason there is no peace in the Middle East, the reason our soldiers are killed…We have been there and we know how dangerous it is.  Please, get the facts and speak the truth.  Thank you for reading this.  Please feel free to share it with others.

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

Important sources/articles:

Rules Have A Purpose

This week I traveled to Los Angeles to officiate at the wedding of one of our Ramat Shalom families. Cheryl and the kids joined me on the trip. Having lived in LA for a year during rabbinical school, I am familiar with the “culture” of the area. For Jonah and Abigail, however, the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood (magnified, of course, by the fact that the Oscars took place while we were in town) and the quirky, offbeat ways of LA bedazzled them. Interestingly enough, one of the things that really stood out for the kids was the nice relationship between the pedestrians and the drivers of Southern California. As many of you know, once you step into a crosswalk in the LA area, cars give you the right of way. At the same time, as a pedestrian in Southern California, you take jaywalking rules very seriously and you cross the street in designated crosswalks. As I explained to my kids, when I first moved to Los Angeles in the early 90’s, I had to finesse my way out of a ticket that was almost issued to me for crossing a street before the light said that I could do so. Jonah and Abigail had a hard time believing this. These very strict “rules of the road” were foreign and fascinating to my suburban children whose street crossing experience is limited, for the most part, to parking lots.

Upon returning from Los Angeles, I did my weekly run to Whole Foods in Plantation. Those of you who have been there know that the parking lot can be horrific. As I drove into the lot, two women dashed directly in front of my car. As I slammed on my brakes, they both glared at me as if I was doing something wrong. From the back seat of the car, Abigail piped up: “Those ladies are lucky we didn’t hit them. They wouldn’t have done that in Los Angeles. They would have crossed up there” she said as she pointed to the crosswalk which was surrounded by stop signs making it clear that drivers must stop for pedestrians. As I approached the crosswalk and stopped, a car in the opposing lane rolled up to the crosswalk as a woman with a baby stroller was crossing the street. Perhaps the driver was too busy texting or simply did not have the time to follow the rules and stop. He blew through the stop sign almost clipping the stroller. An outraged Abigail, keenly aware of proper crosswalk etiquette was speechless. To make matters worse, the driver blared his horn at the woman with the stroller and zoomed off to find himself a parking spot. “Daddy, that man broke the law. He almost killed that woman and her baby! We should have the same rules as Los Angeles!”

As usual, one of my kids provided me with some great insight into the weekly Torah portion (Vayakhel-Pekudei) which begins with Moses explaining the rules of Shabbat. Work is not permitted. A complete rest is required. No fire is to be kindled. Lots of rules. And a consequence: if you break the rules you might die. For most of us, especially those of us who don’t observe Shabbat, this threat is troubling. Why is this threat mentioned? Simply to get us to observe Shabbat and keep us from deviating from the rules? Yes!

After Abigail and I found our parking spot, I explained to her that we do have the same rules as Los Angeles. Technically, we are expected to cross in crosswalks and stop at stop signs and give pedestrians the right of way when they abide by the appropriate rules. We are often just too busy to follow these rules. We rush to get places and get annoyed that people (or cars) get in our way. And we forget that most of the “rules of the road” were put into place to keep us safe. When we disregard these rules, we might very well put ourselves or someone else in harms way. Breaking the rules can get us killed.

I do not believe that one will die if they violate Shabbat. I do believe, however, that our ancestors were convinced that if you violated the commandments of the Torah, you put yourself at risk of being seriously harmed, or worse, killed. And they weren’t afraid to say so because they felt that by warning people, they could save lives.

We tend to overlook consequences in our world today. We don’t often think through how our actions will affect us or other people. Who has the time to do this? The problem is – by not thinking things through and by failing to realize that our actions have consequences, we often learn, after it is too late, that by violating a simple rule we can destroy our life or someone else’s life. This why this week’s Torah portion makes it explicitly clear: break the rules and you put life in jeopardy. As troubling as this concept might be – it is the truth. And it is a lesson that can’t be taught and re-taught enough.

This Shabbat (and from this day forward) please drive safely, cross the street at the crosswalks, and remember that rules are there to keep us all safe.

Holiness=Imperfection

Many people do not realize that Moses actually received the Ten Commandments twice.  If he did not receive them a second time, we would have no commandments.  The first set was destroyed, thrown to the ground by an outraged Moses after he discovered that his people had given up on God and were worshipping an idol.  This week, we read about the destruction of the first set of commandments and the receiving of the second set.  The second set was placed inside the famous ark that sat in the heart of the desert sanctuary and eventually in the heart of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  Legend has it that the original set, the set that was shattered by Moses, was also placed in the ark – along with the whole, intact second set.

For centuries, many have wondered why the shattered fragments of the first tablets containing the 10 Commandments were collected and placed in the ark.  Didn’t their shattering make them useless, worthless, profane?  Obviously not! They were still considered sacred – worthy of being placed at the center of Judaism alongside the holy second set of commandments.  They could have been collected and placed in their own container and kept for safekeeping.  But, this is not what Judaism teaches us.  The shattered and the whole tablets were treated as equally sacred.  Why?

In many respects, each of us is like the holy ark that held the commandments.  Inside each of us, there are wonderful characteristics, quality traits, and strengths that make us who we are.  At the same time, within each of us, there are shattered fragments that reflect the mistakes we have made, the losses we have experienced, and the failures we wish to forget about.  So many of us spend years trying to run from our shattered fragments.  We hide them in the dark places of our lives.  We deny that they exist.  Judaism does not want us to do this.  Our shattered fragments are a part of us and, as such, they are holy.

In our world today, where we all strive to be the best and “perfection” is glamorized on the cover of most magazines, the idea that our blemishes and flaws are holy is radical.  Judaism certainly expects that we strive to be the best person we can be.  However, by telling us that the broken tablets are placed alongside the whole tablets, our tradition teaches us about reality.  Nothing and no one is perfect.  Even the sacred core of Judaism includes broken pieces.

There is no such thing as a perfect person.  The most successful individual has had her share of failures.  While we might not be so proud of our failures – they are a part of us.  Because of this – they are holy.  Judaism wants us to accept this fact, spend less time running from our shattered pieces and embrace them.  It is the incredible combination of our whole and broken pieces that define who and what we are.  Once we accept this, we will discover that a holy life is not about being perfect, but about learning from the broken and the whole pieces of our lives.  It is only by embracing all of our pieces that we truly discover ourselves and realize what it means to be created in the image of God.

Shabbat Shalom