As you know by now, every week one of our rabbis writes a special message which is sent out on Friday afternoons in the hopes of teaching you, inspiring you, or bringing illumination into your lives as you enter into the beauty and peace of Shabbat. This week it’s my turn and for several days I’ve been mulling over several different ideas.
At first, I thought I might talk about Shavuot, which begins this Sunday night and celebrates the receiving of the Ten Commandments, and perhaps even the entire Torah. I would share that according to the Midrash, every Jewish soul that existed or would ever exist was present at Sinai for this mystical Revelation, and how we Jews are all truly soul mates. Then, I could explain how Rabbi Akiba taught that the most important mitzvah of all is “Love thy neighbor as thyself, “and that according to Rabbi Hillel, the entire Torah can be summed up while standing on one foot – “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human being. The rest is commentary, go and study it!” And finally, I could challenge everyone to commit to spending one week following these two basic principles and see how easy or difficult it was.
But then I thought maybe I should talk about the Book of Ruth, the haftorah we read on Shavuot and how sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us of the beauty of Judaism as we see it through their eyes. I could ponder why Ruth, a Moabite convert was blessed to become the great-grandmother of King David and how her husband Boaz (King’s David’s great-grandfather) was descended from Tamar, a Canaanite woman, also not Jewish! I could discuss what holiness really means and how do we recognize the value and goodness in others, even if they are quite different from us.
Or maybe I should write about this week’s Torah portion, the first parsha in the fourth book of the Torah, BaMidbar, the translation of which is “In the Desert.” Wandering in the desert has always been a metaphor for feeling lost, empty, and even abandoned. The Children of Israel lose their way many times in BaMidbar, such as when they succumb to the dangerous propaganda of a charismatic demagogue named Korach, or when they believe the fake news of the spies who come back from scouting the Promised Land. I could wonder why people are so attracted to power and only want to believe what they already think.
But then the upheaval in Israel began – the riots and rocket attacks, the fighting in the streets, the destruction and terror, the wounded and dead – and every other topic paled in comparison.
A thousand thoughts raced through my mind.
“I have to talk about Israel. I must talk about Israel. How can I not talk about Israel? But what should I say?”
A rabbi colleague posted a prayer for Israel on Facebook and was angrily attacked for being one-sided and indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians. A cantor colleague posted that she recognized the fear of both Palestinian and Israeli mothers for the safety of their children. She was viciously scolded for caring about women who wanted to destroy the Jewish people and were no better than Nazis.
“On the other hand,” I said to myself, “maybe I shouldn’t say anything after all.
But then I had an idea. What if I shared that two weeks ago, a Muslim friend of mine, Mohammed Kahn, invited me to attend a zoom Interfaith prayer service just before the break-the-fast during Ramadan, and asked me to give a prayer for peace? He said that because of all the antisemitism that had occurred during the past year, he wanted to reach out to me and my Jewish community in the name of friendship and solidarity.
What if I shared the prayer that I gave that night as part of my Shabbat message? And what if I let people know that just this morning, during some of the worst fighting in Israel, Mohammed sent me an email wishing me blessings of peace?
I just wasn’t sure. Is this the Shabbat message people want to hear this week? Is this the Shabbat message people need to hear this week? I was literally at my wit’s end, torn by indecision and at this point, beginning to panic, when suddenly the answer appeared, as if a message from God.
Actually, the message was an email that came from AJC, the American Jewish Committee but the timing was so perfect that I knew it just had to be Divine Intervention.
Here is some of what the email said:
Millions of Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, are under siege from thousands of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza. These terrorist attacks impact everyone, from small children to senior citizens and all those in between.
Today, as the Jewish State prepares for its first Shabbat since the attacks began, we’d like to invite you to share a message of love and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel, who have had to endure one of the most traumatizing weeks in recent memory.
Israeli TV network i24 will broadcast your message to its viewers beginning Sunday, May 16, and continuing through Tuesday, May 18.
Israel will never stand alone as long as we stand alongside her!
Please take a moment to join AJC in sharing messages of love and support with the people of Israel.
That’s it! There was the answer. This week I am not going to write a Shabbat message at all. You are. This week, instead of hearing from me, let the people of Israel hear from you. This week, I’d like you to take all your worry, your agitation, your frustration, and your heartbreak and transform them into messages of support, strength, unity, and hope for peace. This week, when the Israelis watch the televised messages during the days of Shavuot, let them read your words. Let them know what you feel and think and what you will do to help. This week, instead of being inspired, become the inspiration. The illumination. The consolation.
And so, my friends, I apologize if you are disappointed, but this week, the only Shabbat message that I will write will be the one on AJC.org. I am not going to share it with you because this week you are going to write your own.
But I will share the prayer I gave at the Interfaith Break-Fast. Because as I reread it now, I realize it is a prayer for us all.
Holy One, Creator of the Universe, Source of Life,
You have called us to peace, for You are Peace.
You have implanted in each one of us your Divine Spark,
Creating within us a holy potential.
Grant us the vision, the strength and the courage to realize that potential.
Where there are prejudice and hatred,
May we bring acceptance and love.
Where there are fear and superstition,
May we instill confidence and trust.
Where there are tyranny and oppression,
May we fight for freedom and justice.
Where there are poverty and disease,
May we work for prosperity and health.
Where there are strife and discord,
May we be a light to the nations and teach harmony and peace.
And let us say, Amen