Obvious but not Laughable

Sermon by Cantor Eyal Bitton
July 12, 2014 at Beth Jacob Synagogue
PARASHAT PINHAS

Some things in this world are just so obvious that they’re laughable.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I was watching the Brazil-Germany World Cup semi-final. What a game this was sure to be. A clash between two soccer titans. Would this be, as the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo predicted, a 1-0 Brazil victory? Nobody knew for certain. But it was obvious to most that this was sure to be a closely-contested match.

Anyone who saw the game can attest to the shocker that it turned out to be. It ended up being a completely devastating German thrashing over a bewildered, despondent, and humiliated Brazil. Within a span of six minutes, Germany had scored four goals. It was as if the Germans were playing an amateur team from some lowly youth league.

As the game, or massacre, went on, I kept checking Twitter to see how people were reacting to this tragic and record-breaking slaughter. One of the funniest tweets I came across was from someone named Michael Hayes, a Senior Reporter from @BuzzFeedNews. At this point, it was 6-0 Germany and the Brazilian squad was in total disarray. Hayes wrote, “I’m calling it for Germany.”

I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud. I mean, it had been obvious within the first 29 minutes of the game! And when something is that obvious, it is almost laughable to point it out or even the opposite – not to see it.

My nephew, who is seven years old, was extremely worried that Germany, ahead 7-0 at the time, might lose the game after Brazil scored their only goal, making it 7 to 1.

Again, hilarious. When something is so obvious, pointing it out or failing to notice it, is simply funny.

Accusation of Genocide

On Wednesday, July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attended an emergency meeting in Ramallah. At this point in the current conflict, 43 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been killed. Abbas said, “This is genocide – the murder of entire families is genocide committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.”

Genocide? Really? 43 people is an act of genocide? There may be rational criticisms to make concerning Israel’s actions. Whether or not I agree with them is irrelevant. But of all the rational arguments you can make, you choose to accuse Israel of genocide?

As a people who know what the attempt at genocide looks like, such an accusation is not laughable. It’s contemptible. It’s offensive.

After I tweeted my criticism of Abbas’ preposterous allegation, someone from the UAE or Pakistan replied, “Oh OK. Guess we will just sit tight and wait for a few hundred then. Pls continue indiscriminate bombardment.”

I have to admit, I was baffled. While I hope and pray that this conflagration ends soon and that no more lives are threatened, even if we should get to a few hundred, how is that genocide? It may be tragic. It may be upsetting. It may be necessary or it may be unnecessary. It may be a number of things. But it is not genocide.

As of yesterday, Israel had struck over 1000 targets. The death toll just topped 100. With its formidable firepower, either Israel has horrible aim or they are proving effective in minimizing civilian deaths.

It should be obvious to absolutely everyone that this is nowhere near genocide. And again, rather than this being funny, it is, at least to me, mind-boggling.

I have to note that Abbas did show good leadership when he criticized Hamas Thursday evening on Palestinian TV. “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” he asked. “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.” I applaud him for these words while seriously questioning his use of the word genocide to characterize Israel’s response.

The British paper, The Independent, published a cartoon of Israeli aircraft bombarding Gaza to smithereens. The caption underneath reads: “An eye for a tooth… a hand for an eye… a life for a hand… a people for a life…” The cartoonist, Dave Brown, criticizes Israel by evoking the religion of the Jews, by mocking it and our adherence to it, and then proceeds to accuse Israel of genocide. “A people for a life,” he says. If you kill an Israeli, then Israel will respond by committing genocide. Incidentally, Dave Brown is the artist who drew Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devouring Palestinian babies during the Second Intifada.

The Truth

Isn’t the truth obvious? Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters launch rockets indiscriminately across Israel. Their goal is to hurt and kill Israelis. It doesn’t matter the gender or the age. There is simply no attempt to spare Israeli civilians.

But Israel is seen as being heavy-handed? Israel is seen as being indiscriminate? And despite Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s rejection of a two-state solution and their explicit aim of destroying the Jewish state, Israel is seen as seeking another people’s destruction?!

Again, it should be obvious to anyone what the truth is. And again, the fact that someone should miss the obvious to such an extent is, sadly, not laughable but disconcerting and frightening.

Covenant of Peace

At the start of today’s Parasha, God rewards Aaron’s grandson Pinhas for carrying out God’s will. The reward is described as “Beriti shalom” – “My covenant of peace.” (Numbers 25:12)

But what is God’s will? We don’t hear God’s voice. God does not speak directly to us or to people we know. So what does God want?

In Judaism, the answer is found in the mitzvot, the commandments – and in Jewish law. The answer is in holding ourselves to the highest standards and demanding the most from ourselves – the most spiritually and morally.

When Israel continues to supply food, water, medical supplies, fuel, and electricity to the Gaza Strip even while her enemies may benefit, Israel is behaving in a Godly manner. They are heeding the voice of God.

I pray that Israel continues to defend herself while recognizing the humanity of her enemies and the humanity of the Palestinian civilians caught in the middle of everything. For if she does, then she is seeking to behave in a Godly manner.

I pray that Israel and her leaders continue to be motivated by a sense of justice and defense, not vengeance. For if they are, then they are seeking to behave in a Godly manner.

And I pray that the reward for such actions will be the same reward as the one for Pinhas in today’s Parasha – a covenant of peace. But we all know that the path to peace is difficult and it can be a treacherous one.

Hearing God’s Voice

The Prophet Elijah (Eliyahu), in today’s Haftarah, is in mortal fear and prays to God for help. He runs away. Then, after forty days and forty nights, he walks into a cave, and only then, after this long journey, only then does he hear the voice of God. Eliyahu speaks to God and expresses his angst, his genuine fear for his life. How does he hear God’s answer?

First there comes a “mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks”. (1 Kings 19:11) But God’s voice isn’t found in the wind. Then comes an earthquake. But God isn’t found in the earthquake. Then comes a fire. But Elijah doesn’t find God in the fire. Finally, there is a faint sound and Elijah manages to hear it. This is the voice of God!

Elijah traveled a long distance and for a long time before finding his answer. But he found it. And the answer, the voice of God, was not where he might have expected it to be. But it was there nonetheless.

I firmly believe in Israel’s right to exist and her right to self-defence. Beyond that, it is not my place to preach what Israel should and shouldn’t do or which Israeli political leaders you should or shouldn’t approve of.

So as she faces threats from rockets raining down on her cities from Gaza at a pace of one every ten minutes, threats emerging from Lebanon, and as she has to walk various political tightropes, I pray that Israel hear the voice of God. I pray that Israel and the entire Jewish people, in this difficult time, act in such a way as to merit this covenant of peace. I pray that Israelis and Palestinians live, at the very least, without fear, terror, or bloodshed. May Israel and the Jewish people all know a true covenant of peace – and soon.

For moire information, read this great piece of article by portablecnerd.

Shabbat shalom.