Friday, 16 October 2015

On Noah and Israel / Palestine - Not Another Intifada

Wanted to give a different sermon this week, but events in Israel...
God help us all,
Three moments from this week's Torah reading and three lessons for this tragic, depressing and precarious time.
(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ
One who spills the blood of Adam - shofech dam ha-adam - in the name of Adam, shall their blood be spilt - bAdam damo yishfaech
Love this rhythm, this chiastic power connecting the blood to the very nature of what it means to be human.
In context of the original notion of Kashrut involving a forbidding of the consumption of blood.
Ach basar, - only flesh are you permitted to eat.
bnafsho damo lo tocheilo - the soul which resides in the blood you shall not eat
Echoes of the Merchant of Venice
But if you can't take the blood of even an animal, you can't - you just can't take the blood of a human.
כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם
 עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃
The human is the image of the divine, encoded into each of us.
All of humanity contains the image of God. So if you want to know what God's image really looks like, you have to take a collective image of the entirety of humanity, male and female, black and white, Jewish and Muslim, Zionist and Palestinian, and you have to imagine every life ever lived and every life still to be lived, and you might get close.
But the point is the image of God is encoded in those we don't like, even in those we hate, and despite everything, despite anything, we can never, must never, profane the image of the Divine encoded into all humanity.
And to the suicide attackers - know that this Rabbinic idea appears also in the Koran.
Investigation into a line we read last week, that when Cain kills Abel, God says damei achicha - the bloods of your brother cry out to me.
Why the bloods! grammar is particular, to teach us that murder doesn't just take the life of the person, but of any possible descendants through time.
We are being taught the utter importance of all human life, you take one life, teaches the Mishnah, and teaches the Koran, and you destroy an entire world. You destroy one life, teaches the Mishnah, and teaches the Koran, and you keep an entire world.
You cannot, you just cannot, drive a car into an innocent bystander waiting by the side of the road. Such behaviour can never, must never be justified.
And this is how bad it has become.
There are now reports of Israeli vigilantes launching attacks against Arabs in Israel. And in an attack earlier this week a man, Uri Rezen, was stabbed by one of these Israeli Jewish racist idiots thinking he was stabbing an Arab. But Uri Rezen is a Jew. And now, under arrest, the judge feels the need to protect the name of the stabber for fear of reprisal attacks against him, How stupid is the notion that the response to violence should be more violence. How immoral, how heartbreaking and how stupid.
I have in my mind, for those of a certain vintage, Neil Kinnock's party conference speech where he called out a Labour Council, a Labour Council for their atrocious failure to stand for what Kinnock believed a Labour Party should stand for. For here we have an Israeli Jew, an Israeli Jew thinking that his love of Israel is best demonstrated by stabbing an innocent stranger whose greatest sin is that he looks a bit Arab. How wrong, how heartbreaking and how stupid.
This is my first point
You cannot spill blood. You must value the image of the Divine encoded in all humanity. You cannot spill blood.
Here's a second thought.
It's an old joke, the one where the pious man prays to God to save him from the flood, waving away the emergency workers who keep coming to attempt his rescue only to be drowned. The man is furious with God for letting him drown, and God responds, who do you think sent the emergency workers?
The joke is old, but older still - in fact dating back well over a thousand years is this Rabbinic commentary on the story of Noah and his ark.
Said Rav Huna in the name of Rav Yossi, God warned the generation of the flood about the oncoming flood for 120 years in the hope they would do change their ways.
Since they wouldn't change their ways, God said to Noah, ‘Make an ark of cedar wood.’ Noah got up and planted cedars.
And the people asked him, ‘what are those cedars for?’ And he said, ‘God wants to bring a flood on the world.’ And they mocked him.
And Noah watered the cedars and they grew, and the people asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ And he answered them similarly. And they mocked him.
And eventually he cut them down and planed them. And the people didn't change, and Noah banged together the ark and the people didn't change and when finally the flood broke loose, they gathered around the ark and implored Noah to grant them protection. And with a loud voice Noah replied; Idiots? For 120 years you didn’t change? And now you want to be kept alive?’
The point is that Noah's flood didn't arise from nowhere. In fact there was this simple decent person quite literally banging on about what was coming - warning that if the people didn't change their ways disaster, loss of life, was coming.
And there are plenty of simple decent people banging on in Israel today, both Jewish and Arab.
There are mothers and fathers who have lost children - both Jewish and Arab.
There are former Chiefs of Staff of the Israeli army, former heads of Shin Bet - Israel's elite counter-intelligence - unit who are banging away, warning that if things don't change we will all be swept away in a flood.
There's a tremendous clip that showed up on my social media this week of the Israeli Arab journalist Lucy Aharish calling out the Israeli Arab and Palestinian leadership for fanning the flames of violence with their dangerous rhetoric and their failure to work towards peace.
We desperately need a new approach to a negotiated settlement which can see a secure and stable Israeli state existing alongside a secure and stable Palestinian State. And it's not enough to make the fancy public pronouncements that play well with the international gallery, or the internal pressure groups.
The problem isn't the belligerent words used by those on both sides, expressing their horror at the other, talking the talk about a belief in a two-state solution, whilst giving support to actions which make the chance of such an outcome ever more difficult to reach. We've plenty of that. It's not enough to play dog-whistle politics with the lives of those living in Israel and Palestine. What we need is the other thing.
We need less big pronouncements, and much more genuine dialogue, less words and more actions designed to send the message that there is another way and that there is a genuine desire to build a new relationship between Israel and Palestine.
Pirkei Avot - gedalti ben hahachamim v'lo matzati tov mi shtika.
Ain a dibbur ha ikkar, eleh ha-maseh
You can't watch on while Noah bangs away at his ark and then express surprise when the flood comes. And the flood is coming. We need more leadership through action, less belligerent words and more courage.
And here's the third point.
Goodness, it's depressing. It's gloomy, and at times it feels irredeemably so.
And that's just reading the parasha - where the entire world is destroyed for being suffused with violence and God promises not to do it again, not because God thinks we are going to change, but even despite our being - in the Torah's words - evil from our youth.
And when you factor in these stabbings and suicide attacks and revenge attacks and the rhetoric and the failure of real commitment to work towards a two-state solution. It's worse.
So here is what happens in the parasha.
After the flood, after the destruction of the entire human race, Noah and his closest family are left floating over Armageddon. And then Noah does something truly epochal. He opens the window of the ark and sends out the raven.
He lets light in, and he sends his hands out. It was my friend Rabbi Marc Wolf who pointed out to me the power of this action. Not to stay in the dark, not to give in to the siren call of despair. Not to give up on their being a future - a bright future.
Despair is forbidden, in Jewish thought. So don't give in.
Don't yield to those who tell you that there is no hope; Don't accept that the Arabs can never be a true partner for peace. Don't accept that Israelis are ever going to make peace. It's fine to pay attention to the mess, but don't forget to open the window and let the light in, don't forget to send out the raven. Don't forget to hope.
Here's a point of light - a point of hope.
Uri Rezen - the Israeli stabbed by the vigilante who thought he was an Arab - he's responding to his being stabbed by going on Israeli TV and proclaiming, ' “We are all human beings, we are all equal. It does not matter if an Arab stabbed me or a Jew stabbed me, a religious, orthodox or secular person."
There's another clip doing the rounds on social media of the Israeli-Arab Mayor of Nazareth calling out a firebrand Israeli-Arab Member of Parliament - while the latter is being interviewed live on the streets of Nazareth, demanding that the people of Nazareth don't want an escalation of violence, don't want an escalation of rhetoric.
There's a rally planned for tonight, in Tel Aviv - hosted by the New Israel Fund, a rally to refuse to despair. And Amen to that.
Look for the points of hope.
And if you can't find them, try these - 

Look for the points of hope. Because even if it's awful, it's forbidden to despair
My three lessons this week.
Never shed blood
Call for a change of ways; a change of leadership
Never give up hope

Shabbat shalom

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