• Clergy
  • Shabbat

At 176 verses, this week’s Torah portion, Nasso is the longest in our Torah, but its most well-known blessing is short and simple:   

May God bless you and keep you

May God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you

May God’s presence be with you and grant you peace

This is a blessing meant to be offered by Jew to fellow Jew.

Notice what it doesn’t say:
It doesn’t say “May God bless you and keep you (if you back the same political parties that I do.")

It doesn’t say “May God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you (if you support the Iran Nuclear Deal.")
It doesn’t say “May God’s presence be with you and grant you peace (if you donate to AIPAC vs J Street.")

Yet, all this week on social media, I have seen Jews attack other Jews over these types of political differences, at precisely the time we should be uniting, and offering each other blessings and support.

The fighting in Israel and Gaza is incredibly painful for all of us. Thousands of bombs fired at innocent civilians, violence erupting between Jews and Arabs -- between neighbors.  The acrimony has spread across the world, even to Los Angeles where on Tuesday night, Jewish businesses were vandalized. 

In troubling, scary times such as these, we Jews need to remember two things: 1.) We are all one people connected through millennia of fellowship 2.) Antisemitism is real —and the gravest threat to every Jew. This eternal menace—and not the fleeting political issues of the day— is what we should always be most focused on and unified against. It is my strongly held belief that the only way that we can defeat the evil of antisemitism in this world, is if we, as Jews, are united.

This week on social media, at least, I have seen shrill, combative voices, sharply divided over political issues. As Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided cannot stand.” We are all weaker and more susceptible to the very real danger of antisemitism, whether in the Middle East or here at home, when we focus our energies on attacking our fellow Jews, rather than building protective bonds with one other.

Last week, I, a Jewish clergy member and granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, was called “antisemitic” by a fellow Jew on social media, after expressing empathy for the innocent victims on both sides of this horrendous conflict. This is how ridiculous, overwrought, and non-productive the political dialogue has become amongst Jews, and we are all weaker for it.

The Talmud contains the following story, which I think is instructive in our current moment:

A rabbi asked his students: "How do we know when the night is over?  

The first student said: "Rabbi, when I look out at the fields and I can tell the difference between my field and the field of my neighbor, that's when the night has ended."

A second student replied: "Rabbi, when I look from the fields and I see a house, and I can tell that it's my house and not my neighbor’s house, that's when night has ended and day can begin."

The third student said: "Rabbi, when I see a flower and I can distinguish the colors of red or yellow or blue, that's when the day can begin."

Each answer brought a sadder frown to the rabbi's face. Until finally he shouted, "No! None of you understands! You only divide! You divide your house from the house of your neighbor, your field from your neighbor's field, you separate one color from all the others. Is that all we can do--dividing, separating, splitting the world into pieces? Isn't the world broken enough? Isn't the world split into enough fragments?

The rabbi stared back into the faces of his students and said: "When you look into the face of the person who is beside you, and you can see that person is your brother or your sister, then finally the night has ended and the day has begun."
These last weeks have felt like one long nightfall. As we walk through the haze, unable to foresee an end to the darkness, we have to remember that together we defeated Pharaoh and his army. Together, we survived decades of persecution. Together we built a nation of “hope” in the desert sands...together we are Am Yisrael.
This Shabbat, I offer this blessing to you, as one Jew to another:
May God bless you and keep you
May God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you
May God’s presence be with you and grant you peace

Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Lisa Peicott