Sunday, August 19, 2018

D'Var Torah - Shoftim

[My American synagogue, Temple Israel of Natick, has for years had congregants give the D'Var Torah during the summer months. I gave the following on the 7th of Elul, 5778 (August 18, 2018), Shoftim.]

דבר תורה - שפטים

Shabbat shalom. I would like to thank Rabbi Liben for offering me this opportunity and for not preempting what I was going to say.

In Shoftim, Moshe instructs the Children of Israel to appoint judges, to “judge the people with righteous judgement.” As Rabbi Liben mentions, he says

צדק צדק תרדף

Justice, justice you must pursue

It actually continues

למען תחיה ויָרַשתָ את הארץ אשר ה׳ אלהיך נֹתֵן לָך

that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Does that mean the people of Israel will not live if we do not pursue justice? Does Moses mean we wouldn’t inherit the Land of Israel, or our children wouldn’t inherit the Land, if we didn’t pursue justice? Does it mean it doesn’t really matter whether we pursue justice outside Eretz Yisrael?

You won’t get an answer from me.
What about the last verse in Chapter 19?

ולא תָחוֹס אֵינֶך נפש בנפש עין בעין שֵן בשֵן יד ביד רגל ברגל

And thine eye shall not pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

That verse is often used to malign what the people who do so usually call the “Old Testament.” A former rabbi of Temple Israel, Arnold Miller, gave a different interpretation.

You probably don’t remember Rabbi Miller of Temple Israel. That’s because he wasn’t rabbi of Temple Israel of Natick; he was the rabbi of Temple Israel of Waterbury, Connecticut.

Rabbi Miller was a wonderful teacher who explained “an eye for an eye” wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Rather, the rabbis interpreted it to mean that punishment should be appropriate and not disproportionate to the crime, a revolutionary concept in more compassionate justice at the time.

Rabbi Miller said something else I’m still wondering about. That Temple Israel was a Reform Synagogue and someone in our study group once asked him why he didn’t keep kosher. His answer was “God didn’t want me to keep kosher.” It took me a while to realize that answer was ambiguous and I still don’t know whether he meant God wanted him to NOT keep kosher, or God just didn’t care.

I’ve long enjoyed playing with language. One of my favorite books growing up was “Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard. Perhaps coincidentally, it was reissued about the time Mad Men appeared on television. One can imagine it having a prominent place on Don Draper’s bookshelf. Today, you can read it on your Kindle.

We see lots of misuse of language when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Students for Justice in Palestine” have no interest in justice.

“Jewish Voice for Peace” has no interest in peace.

JStreet used to call itself “the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby,” falsely implying the real pro-Israel organizations, like AIPAC, JFNA, ADL, AJC and ZOA weren’t pro-peace.

Last Shabbat, when Ann Green managed to find a way to sneak in talking about cats while discussing Re’eh the way I’m managing to use Shoftim to talk about the misuse of language - and Israel, of course - an Associated Press story, published in the Boston Globe and the MetroWest Daily News, contained the contradictory language “Violence erupted at the Gaza border Friday, although the territory's militant Islamic Hamas rulers and Israel appeared to be generally honoring a cease-fire.”

Hamas generally honored the cease-fire by tossing firebombs and hand grenades, attempting to breach the Gaza border and send terrorists into Israel, and set off numerous fires in Israel using kites, balloons and condoms.

Since last Shabbat, things have calmed down considerably, although there have been more incendiary kites and balloons and more fires. Of course, that didn’t get reported in the American press. But by Thursday, it was reported that Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, although Israel had continued to send food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance even when it was supposedly closed.

What other country sends humanitarian supplies to its enemies? And that didn’t stop Hamas from organizing more bloody riots yesterday.

The article in the Boston Globe closed with the number of Arabs who were killed. Casualty counts are rarely mentioned when reporting on other conflicts, but they’re almost always included when reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The article also said most of those killed were unarmed.

I wonder how many people noticed no source was given? I wonder how many realized the source had to be Hamas, the terror group which is not known for its honesty or its veracity?

Not mentioned: The fact that when casualties have been analyzed, approximately 83 percent turned out to be affiliated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad or other terror groups. And one has to be rather naive to believe most of those terrorists were unarmed.

Words. Language. They’re important. And they’re used against us. We’ve let Israel’s enemies determine the termology. Even Israeli government officials fall into the trap of using inaccurate terms like


1967 borders,

Palestinian land,

East Jerusalem.

We need to take back control … of the border with Gaza and of the language being used.

Shoftim is also relevant to the decline in the character of the leadership in both Israel and the United States these days, a decline of which all parties, in both countries, are guilty. And in the last election in Israel, there were about 26 parties running.

When Harry Truman left the presidency, he went back to his modest family home in Independence, Missouri. That’s what ex-presidents used to do, but in a recent Washington Post column, Richard Cohen observed that “Gerald Ford changed everything by making money off his presidency.” That’s somewhat ironic, because Gerald Ford was probably one of the most decent men to ever become president, although he lost my vote because of his hostility to Israel and because he told my hometown to drop dead when it was facing bankruptcy. Who knew then that the guy I did vote for, the peanut farmer from Georgia, was such an anti-Semite and really hostile to Israel?

According to a recent article in Business Insider, Barack Obama today has a net worth 30 times what it was when he entered the White House … and he wasn’t poor going into the White House … and that’s before benefitting from his multimillion dollar Netflix deal.

Ben Gurion retired to Sde Boker, where he lived in a standard issue hut, far more spartan than the home of anyone in this room, and swept floors and milked cows like his fellow kibbutzniks. Menahem Begin retired quietly to his tiny apartment in Jerusalem.

During his first stint as prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin learned his wife had forgotten to close a small American bank account she had opened when he had served as ambassador to the United States. It was a minor, inadvertent violation of an obsolete law, but Rabin felt honor bound to resign.

What a contrast to the disgraced Ehud Olmert … and to Ehud Barak, who found his 8 million dollar apartment in Tel Aviv’s Akirov Towers too modest, so he sold it and moved to less spartan quarters.

In Shoftim. Moshe describes the selection, qualifications and duties of a king. Not just governing responsibilities, but moral responsibilities, such as “neither shall he multiply wives to himself” … that doesn’t seem to be a major problem today … and “neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.”

Shoftim also says that when the king “sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book … and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep the words of this law and these statutes … that his heart not be lifted up above his brethren … .”
Harry Truman. Ben Gurion. Menachem Begin. Yitzhak Rabin. They led and lived and exemplified those values.

Israel just passed a controversial, albeit meaningless, new Basic Law. If you read Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post, you may have seen my letter about it. Maybe we - I’m speaking now as an Israeli citizen - need another Basic Law, requiring our leaders to adhere to the words of Shoftim.

And in America, perhaps we need an amendment to the Constitution, requiring the same of our leaders here, although since they probably won’t be able to understand it as dictated by God and written in the original Hebrew by the hand of Moshe, we might need to give them an English translation.

Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Congressional Letter Effectively Urging American Financial Support for Terrorists

Variations of the letter below have been sent to newspapers and some of the relevant Congressional representatives. I concentrated on those from Connecticut and Massachusetts as a former resident of the former state and current resident (when I'm not in Israel) of the latter.

To the editor:

It's not surprising that Hamas continued its bloody riots during a supposed "cease-fire." ("Violence erupts amid Gaza cease-fire, 2 Palestinians killed," August 11) During Hamas' well-planned riot on Friday, Palestinian Arabs tossed explosives, including molotov cocktails and hand grenades, burned tires, tried to cross the border into Israel in order to murder people in Sderot and other nearby communities, started numerous fires using incendiary devices attached to kites, balloons and condoms, and caused a power outage when one of its incendiary kites landed on a power line by a kibbutz.

What is surprising is that while Hamas and the other terror groups in Gaza are being so violent, no fewer than seven Congresspeople from Connecticut and Massachusetts (Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty, Jim McGovern and Niki Tsongas) have signed a letter ( calling our government to pour more money into Gaza, knowing full well that every dollar we spend in Gaza helps to strengthen the terrorists in charge.

Even worse, they want to pour some of the funding into UNRWA, the United Nations agency that has not only forced generations of Palestinian Arabs to live as if they were refugees, but has used its schools to indoctrinate children to hate while feigning surprise when others discovered Hamas stored rockets under its schools.

Months ago, we asked several members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to look through a study, "Schoolbooks of the Palestinian Authority: The Attitude to the Jews, to Israel and to Peace," published last December by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. These schoolbooks are the ones used by UNRWA. Nobody who is interested in peace and the welfare of both Palestinians and Israelis as well as being familiar with the delegitimization and demonization of Israel and "indoctrination to violent struggle instead of peace" pulsing through the pages of the textbooks UNRWA uses would want to give additional funding to UNRWA.

The study was updated in June and is available on the web at I urge Congresspeople Capuano, Clark, Courtney, DeLauro, Esty, McGovern and Tsongas to read at least some of the examples and the executive summary. Gaining some understanding of the harm UNRWA has been doing may lead them to regret effectively pouring gasoline onto the fires by lending their signatures to that letter.


Alan Stein
Natick, Massachusetts and Netanya, Israel