Parashat Tazria-Metzora: World conscience

The Hebrew word Sinai sounds almost exactly like ‘sina,’ or hatred; because of the moral message of Sinai – the divine demand for freedom for all.

April 16, 2010 16:52
3 minute read.
A poster for Israeli Apartheid Week.

israel apartheid week 311. (photo credit: Screenshot)


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On this Sabbath, sandwiched between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers, and just preceding Israeli Independence Day, I am plagued by a timeless Jewish question: Why Jewish suffering? It was bad enough before the rise of the Jewish state and the miraculous success of the Six Day War, when every Jew identified with Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye who, upon hearing the sudden decree of the “mayor” of Anatevka expelling the Jewish population, began to address God: “My father in heaven, just explain to me why. Because we are the chosen people? Well then, God, the next time you make a choice, don’t do us any favors; choose someone else instead!”

But now the question has become far more agonizing. We are not only flinging accusations at God for the events of the Holocaust, we are also querying Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, who believed that with the Jewish return to normalcy within our own state, anti-Semitism would disappear.

Sixty-two years later, we are smarting from the topsy-turvy, mad-hatter accusations of a Goldstone Report condemning suicide-bomber and Kassam rocket victims for “disproportionate” self-defense. We are suffering from anti-Israel Apartheid Week, during which claims are made that the one country which gives its Muslim citizens – men and women alike – the equality they deserve is guilty of the heinous crimes of pre-Mandela South Africa. Our opponents argue that we – who have always been willing to compromise and have always recognized Palestinian rights – are the intransigent ones in a conflict wherein the Arab world (which has yet to recognize our right to a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East) seriously maintains that we have no historical claim to the Temple Mount!

I believe that from a biblical, theological perspective, Jewish suffering and world condemnation of our people hark back to God’s covenant with Abraham, our initial “election” and mission. Some readers might remember the short verse published in Reader’s Digest by arch anti-Semite Louis Untermeyer during the Second World War; “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” The response, published only in the Jewish Spectator, was given by Maurice Samuel: “It was not odd; the Jews chose God.” And the Jews didn’t only choose God; they chose ethical monotheism! As the Bible testifies, God declares Himself (as it were) to have known, loved and chosen Abraham because only Abraham was prepared to teach “compassionate, righteousness and moral justice” to his household after him (Genesis 18:19).

And God warns Abraham from the beginning that being the people of the Covenant will not be simple. At the “cutting” of the covenant (Gen. 15), three animals are bisected, symbolic of the animalistic nations achieving dominion over the world, but eventually being vanquished. A deep sleep then falls upon Abraham, a great black fear – and then a pigeon and turtle dove emerge unscathed! The birds are the Jewish messengers, with their message of compassionate righteousness and moral justice soon to be distilled into the Ten Commandments; our moral mission for the world.

And the Midrash points out that the Hebrew word Sinai sounds almost exactly like sina, or hatred; because of the moral message of Sinai – the divine demand for freedom for all, the absolute prohibition against murder of innocents, and the inviolability of every person – the nations would come to hate us and attempt to get rid of the messenger.

But that’s the price of our election. “And through us, all the nations of the world will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) – because unless the world understands that the murder of innocents must not be condoned, that suicide bombers must not be called freedom-fighters, that even the most powerful must be monitored and their ability to wreak destruction limited in our global village, there won’t be a free world left for our children to enjoy.

Until Israel succeeds in spreading the message of the Ten Commandments, we – as the “heart” and conscience of the nations – will be the first to suffer the consequences of evil running amok. We are the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53. With the re-establishment of our state, we have returned to center stage of history after 2,000 years.

May we be worthy of our task.

The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.

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