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This Week at RHR

The long hot month of August is upon us. But as hot as it is here we cannot forget the suffering of this past week. The, once again, war in Gaza, is the topic of Avi Dabush's latest article. Similarly the  examination of this week's Torah portion leads us to consider how we can be more compassionate and to think of people who are living under circumstances that are devastating. Today, in an effort to teach our rabbis and activists about nonviolence and caring we are condicting a first of its kind for RHR training. More on that next week.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thoughts about Consolation, Disciple and Meaning - Parashat Vaetchanan

By Rabbi Orit Rozenblit

“Console, console my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40, 1).

Have you ever seen consolation? Can you wear it or eat it? Who can console us?

Consolation is one of those special phenomena that we all know from experience. Can we describe consolation as choosing life during dark times?
Consolation exists in human relationships, in correspondence with one another. It is present in the words of the prophet who called for Consolation when our temple was destroyed. Consolation exists in human consciousness.

The Prophet Isaiah calls on the people Israel, living in exile to continue to live a meaningful life, together, as a united community. He calls on them to choose life every day. Consolation is the expression of the human capacity to go beyond reason, beyond grief, to choose joy, love, life.
What is joy? What is love?

Joy, love, hope are all concepts without an image, without physical embodiment or form. This is exactly how Moses describes the receiving of Torah, at Mount Sinai: “Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets” (Deuteronomy 4, 12-13).

The Torah is not a collection of images, but words with meaning. Sometimes the Torah is an object, an act, and sometimes it's just meaningful. The Torah is a covenant, a way to commit or to agree on things that don’t have a physical existence. Covenant is a choice and a commitment towards people. Togetherness is saying yes to an uncompleted world in which existence is not visible to the human eye – love, friendship, faith, peace, justice, truth and more.

Just as God has no image, the acts of keeping the Sabbath, respecting our parents are phenomena that create meaning in our lives but do not have an image. On the other hand murder, killing, stealing, for example, are phenomena that can be physically represented in reality, they must be seen and they create an image. Law is human consent to behavior that wants to overcome the desire of enjoying all worlds at once, the will of control, the deep aspiration, the pleasure of the body at all times.

After Moses told us that “At that time I pleaded with the Lord….Let me go over and see the good land” (Deuteronomy 3, 23-25) he revealed his desire to receive a reward for his mission, he taught us something about human limitations, and continued with his speech despite God’s refusal. He came to peace with the compromise that he will only see the Land of Israel, and now he is turning transmitting leadership to his successor, Joshua. He knows that the mission is bigger than himself. He says: “Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 4, 1)

In order to live, we should learn self discipline, law and order. Only obedience to law and order will allow us to inherit the land. The land is not only the land of Israel but also the bread we eat, the children we raise, our livelihood. In this Torah reading Moses, just like prophet Isaiah places meaning together with discipline. Both of them are the Torah that he teaches every year in the light of the destruction and our own personal failures. He juxtaposes this with murder, uncontrollable lust, adultery and chasing riches.

Love, truth, justice, peace, human equality are all divine concepts. In the prophetic spirit, may we find comfort by living these concepts in a reality that includes missile attacks, fallen rockets and destroyed homes. We can do it.

“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40, 5)

Translated by Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway, Rabbinic Liaison & Director of Community Outreach

Rabbi Orit Rozenblit is a member of RHR. Her MA is in Jewish History from Haifa University. She is the founder and key educator of “Poteach Shearim” a non-profit Yeshiva for both Secular and Orthodox Young Adults. Orit was ordained in 2020 at HUC and is currently writing her PhD in Mishnah commentary.

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The Long COVID of Gaza Wars and Evacuations

The Constant Evacuation of Citizens is a Case of Long Covid
In general, during a round of fighting in Gaza, the residents of the south evacuate as part of a state-sponsored or independent evacuation • This might demonstrate our resilience, but it demonstrates the extent to which distrust of the political and military leadership runs deep!

By Avi Dabush, RHR's Executive Director
(Originally published in Israel HaYom, 8 August 2022)

When the Sderot municipality spokesman stood next to a damaged house on Shabbat and spoke of many who left the city, he did not know to what extent he was reflecting a changing history when it comes to evacuations. Many rockets have landed in Sderot since the late Shlomo (“Cheech”) Lahat, Tel Aviv's seventh mayor who was in office during the Gulf War in 1991, called the Tel Avivians leaving the city "deserters".

It was only in 2006 that the Israeli government finally began to understand. The Second Lebanon War was fought on two fronts: the campaign in Lebanon against Hezbollah, and on the home front, in the cities and towns of the north, which suffered from deadly barrages. The lack of preparation on the home front revealed complete negligence on the part of municipal leaders and senior government officials. Those who could afford it, moved south. Those who had difficulty - for economic or health reasons were left behind with dysfunctional leadership in their cities and towns.

Since then, Israel has been struggling and improving, more or less, the way it evacuates its citizens from war zones. We live in the only country in the world that evacuates its citizens every year or two, in an era where the emptying of the Otaf and Sderot settlements is something that the authorities encourage, perhaps out of a lack of choice.

Everyone who lives in the area knows the picture. As soon as tensions are suspected, families with small children begin to evacuate. In the first hours of the fighting, when it is clear that we are in the midst of a never-ending story of bloodshed, the communities are emptied, mainly on the basis of their proximity to the border. The closer the settlement is to the fence between Israel and Gaza, the sooner and more comprehensive the departure will be. Essential officials, elderly and physically challenged usually are left behind. Today, in most localities, this is about a quarter of the residents, or less. If in previous rounds it was mainly about kibbutzim and moshavim on the border, today most of the residents of Sderot are leaving the area, as part of a state-sponsored evacuation or they are doing so on their own, finding refuge with family or in other locations.

This exodus, every year or two, can be a testimony to our resilience. This is the only way to survive mentally. This is the only way to physically and emotionally take care of our children and afford them some kind of normality, in the midst of their summer vacation from school which has fallen again, during the absolute madness called war. In this respect, it is good that the state understood this. Where there are no strategic solutions coming out of our leaders from making peace at least the fragile peace of mind of the citizens is somewhat attended to.

The evacuation might also point to the desperation and danger with the situation experienced by so many, a substantial number of whom have learned to only hope that the current operation will bring a year of peace. No more. Even the fantasies of long-term quiet have faded. It's dangerous. This is a phenomenon that deepens the lack of trust in the political and military leadership; This is a phenomenon that weakens the communities and families that have come to plant their roots in such an important area of the State of Israel; It's a mindset that prevents long-term planning that is so necessary for families, communities and also local businesses.

In the state of this exasperated mental burnout, we may find that this routine we have built is not working. It becomes like a case of long COVID and we find that even when the sweeping removal of our citizens happens “only” a few weeks a year, there are long-term effects.
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