This morning as I was driving, I happened to catch a small portion of an interview that Rabbi Brad Hirschfield gave to host of NPR’s "Tell Me More." Rabbi Hirschfield has a unique perspective on the situation in Israel and the present Gaza incursion – he is a former West Bank settler and activist. Now a prominent Rabbi, radio personality, and frequent guest on television and radio news and talk programs, he has become an outspoken proponent of pluralism, true interfaith dialog, and religion owning up to its "dark side."
(As an aside, one of my favorite quotes from Rabbi Hirschfield, and one I frequently cite in dialog with those who currently find themselves in the Hitchens/Dawkins "religion/G"d is just plain bad for us" crowd. Speaking of 9/11/2001, he said
"Religion drove those planes into the buildings, but it can also provide the catalyst for building a better world.")
Like many I speak to, I am very conflicted about the present Israeli government’s incursion into Gaza. I do recognize the constant threat under which the state of Israel exists. I recognize the plight of the people in Gaza, and of the Palestinian people. Why can’t a peaceful solution to this festering problem be realized?
This week’s parasha, and also, in particular, the Haftarah reading, provide some insight into how we have allowed of psyches to become shaped.
In the Haftarah, fro I Kings 2:1-12, a dying King David instructs Solomon on how to be a good king and leader. He tells Solomon to walk in G"d’s ways, and to keep G"d’s teachings and commandments close at hand and close to heart. All this he does in four verses. In the fifth verse, David exhorts Solomon to remember
"what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me…..and see that his white hair does not go down to sheol in peace." (21:5-6)
On the other hand, because Barzillai of Gilead befriended David when he fled from Absalom, Solomon should honor him.
Even more troubling is how David asks Solomon to deal with Shimei, son of Gera. At one time Shimei insulted David, yet at another he came to meet him by the river Jordan, at which time David swore to Shimei that he would not kill him. Not wishing to break that vow, he tells Solomon:
"do not let him [Shimei] go unpunished; for you are a wise man and you will know how to deal with him and send his gray hair down to Sheol in blood."
You can almost sense the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" on David’s part. I vowed to kill him, but that needn’t stop you from doing it in my stead.
After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers worry that now Joseph will seek revenge against them for what they did to him, and they concoct a story of Jacob expressing a dying wish that Joseph forgive his brothers. Of course, Joseph goes into the whole "it was all meant for good" thing – a troubling premise I have written about many times in these Shabbat musings. I won’t comment further in this musing about it.
Today, In the place that was once ancient Israel, we see the fruits of centuries of allowing ourselves to follow this path of hereditary payback. At times, like the Hatfields and McCoys, I’m not even sure we all remember what we’re fighting each other about – the fighting has just become habit.
It’s enough to make you accept what Hitchens and Dawkins suggest – that religion and belief in G"d are largely responsible for the ills of humanity. Yet still, I won’t. Like Rabbi Hirschfield, I have learned the importance of airing the "dark side" of my religious heritage, and trying to come to terms with it.
I love Judaism. I love Israel. Yet both are severely flawed, and I will not stand idly by and allow these flaws to continue to cause needless hardship, suffering, and death. I hope that co-religionists from Muslim, Christian, and other faith traditions will take the same stance. Then maybe we can reach a place where dialog can result in lasting peace.
Rabbi Hirschfield put it in exactly the right perspective this morning on NPR. Neither to the Israeli living in fear as rockets explode near her child’s kindergarten, nor the Palestinian weeping over a child killed in the current fracas, does it matter who shot first, who started it, whether a response is "proportional" or not.
We need to be able to recognize and control that instinct in all of us to hate from habit, to carry on hereditary vendettas, to seek justice through retribution, and to justify our actions on the basis of these understandings.
Rabbi Hirschfield and others are correct. Within our faith traditions, warts and all, is the wisdom and the knowledge to find our way to a better world in this world.
Ken y’hi ratsoneinu. May this be our will. I won’t be so bold as to pray ken y’hi ratson – may this be G"d’s will – because I remain unconvinced that G"d alone could make it happen. It’s a partnership – human to human, and humans with G"d. Let’s join hands.
Adrian (aka Migdalor guy)
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester