Banding Together In Loneliness: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Greg Weisman

Shabbat Message by Rabbi Greg Weisman graphic for Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

Like many of you, I have struggled with a mix of emotions during the months since October 7. What began with horror and dismay as the first images began to spread turned to anger and rage that our sisters and brothers in Israel could be so brutally treated. Those emotions gave way to the sadness and pain that comes with grief – grief for the victims and their families, grief for all Israelis whose sense of security may have been irrevocably shattered, and grief for Jews and all rodfei shalom, pursuers of peace around the world. Not all of the emotions I have felt were negative; watching the children in our congregation sing the words of Am Yisrael Chai each Sunday morning was one of my many moments of pride and resolve. So too it was Yom HaAtz’maut when our congregation gathered in Blue and White to offer our gratitude to those who gave their last full measure of devotion and celebrate the Zionist ideal towards which we continue to aspire.

But as I look back over these months and ask myself what emotion I have felt the most frequently, it has been a sense of loneliness. That loneliness subsides when I am in the synagogue or with trusted friends, and it is exacerbated when I hear or see people so easily dismiss the Jewish people’s need for a safe and secure Israel. The protests that we witnessed around college campuses might be the most biting example of that dismissal, some of which suggested an outright rejection of our people’s right to live on our ancient homeland. But even setting aside those blatantly anti-Zionist sentiments, the global conversation about the war in Gaza is challenging. So many in the global community seem to be more and more concerned about the plight of the residents of Gaza, not in balance with but in complete dismissal of the residents of Israel who themselves are in harm’s way. While the number of casualties may not be equal, a casualty count is not an indicator of which party is in the right or in the wrong.

Pain and anguish, and the desire to feel compassion by others, is not something of which anyone has a monopoly. Tragedy does not uniquely befall Jews or Israelis, nor Palestinians or Gazans. A challenging but essential act of humanity is to be able to hold in one’s heart and soul the pain of two groups who might at a given moment stand in opposition to one another, perhaps even making moral claims against the other. While it may be tempting to quiet the dissonance in one’s head by declaring one side the good and the other the bad, that is certain to obfuscate the complexities that most modern situations feature.

As a Jew and a Zionist, my reflexive sympathies are of course with Israel and Israelis. As a human being, I cannot dismiss the human tragedy befalling the residents of Gaza. But as someone who values reason and rationality, I am troubled by how many people so quickly have decided that because Israel has the greater power to inflict damage, because most of what we see or read about in the news features casualties of Gazans, that Israel must be doing something wrong, Israel must be the aggressor, and that sympathies should only be with Gazans. It is in that troubled sense that I feel lonely.

I sit in my loneliness with many of my fellow Jews; many of you. I sit in my loneliness with rabbinic colleagues around the country, as we have been checking in with one another, sharing similar stories of our congregants coming to us wondering why the world has so quickly forgotten how this war started. Perhaps it’s that forgetfulness that makes this loneliness so much more acute. In the days and weeks after October 7, we felt seen and heard. Now all we hear is silence.

As I look to the wisdom of our tradition for solace, I find some in this week’s Parasha, Bechukotai. The final chapters of the Book of Leviticus feature a litany of blessings and curses, telling our ancestors that if we follow the ways of Torah, God would bless them; and if they don’t, tragedy would befall them. Curiously, the Torah suggests that after those tragic curses, those who survive would remain in peril. “The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues. With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies, but shall perish among the nations; and the land of your enemies shall consume you (Lev. 26:36-38).”

In moments of strife, it seems that the Torah is suggesting we will stumble in our attempts for survival. The rabbis of the midrash explain this further, that the stumbling is not physical, it’s not that we would bump into one another and trip in our attempts to flee. More strikingly, the rabbis suggest that we should read this passage that our stumbling is because of one another, an underscoring of the principle we know well that all of Israel is responsible, one for the other. When we individually act well, as a people we will thrive, and when we individually act poorly, the effects, affect us all.

That might seem fatalist, but for me I take solace in it. In this moment in history when we feel abandoned by the world, when a tragedy has befallen us and we might be tempted to wonder whether a curse has descended, how should we respond? By banding together.

Two and a half weeks ago, when our Jewish community gathered together folks from different schools and different synagogues to mark Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtz’maut, we banded together. Those who are wearing the Israeli dog tags that say “Bring them Home,” or a yellow or blue ribbon or pin, are banding together. Those who are showing up for a Shabbat service, or sharing an article or video on social media reiterating Israel’s moral case, are standing up. Those who are doing the vulnerable act of speaking out to friends or acquaintances who would hold Israel to task for doing an impossible task less than perfectly, are banding together.

From the early days after October 7, the phrase “Beyachad N’netzeiach – Together we will succeed,” has been our rallying cry. It is as poignant now as ever before. Entering into Shabbat, may we be inspired to lean on and support each other, through tragedy and triumph, thought loneliness and lasting connections.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Greg Weisman

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