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Monday, December 22, 2014

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A dvar Torah for the Three Weeks

Tags: Opinions Hamas Mohammed Abu Khdeir Ron Huldai Tel Aviv
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Seymour Epstein

Some years ago, I attended a concert in Tel Aviv of Camille Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah.  The mayor, Ron Huldai, introduced the opera by stating that its story, taken from the Bible, takes place in Gaza, where we once had trouble and still do.  Today Hamas rockets launched in Gaza rain down on Tel Aviv.    

We have a phrase in Aramaic, inyanei d'yoma, issues of the day, which has always had a double meaning of both current events and the current moment in the Jewish calendar.  For instance, inyanei d'yoma could refer to either the latest provincial budget or the Torah portion of the week, or both.  And in this sad period of our calendar, the three weeks between the first breach of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz and the destruction of our temple on Tisha b'Av, there is a kind of Jewish version of pathetic fallacy in the juxtaposition of the current war in Israel and the national mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem, also a target for Hamas rockets from Gaza.  In Parashat Matot, we actually read, in Numbers 31:3, "Moses spoke to the people saying:  'Let men be drafted out from among you for the army...'" And as we encountered these lines in synagogue, soldiers were being called up in Israel to fight in Gaza. 

We justify our defensive war with Gaza with the oft-quoted line, "ha'ba l'horgecha, hashkem l'hargo" - if someone is intent on killing you, rise up early to kill him.  Hamas has made it clear that the destruction of Israel is its goal. Hamas supporters around the world are screaming at demonstrations, "Kill the Jews," just in case anyone still thinks that these protesters are not militantly anti-Semitic. 

While our obligation is clear, I have often wondered about the Hebrew word, hashkem, rise early. Of course, the literal sense of it is that you should kill your adversary before he kills you, but it is also possible that the intent is to neutralize your enemy quickly before you assimilate his worst characteristics. If you live too long with your enemy, you can become the same.

Note that in the Esther Scroll, after killing thousands of souls, the Jews did not thank God in prayer, but sat down to a drinking party, the very motif of the absurdity of the majority culture they inhabited.  We witnessed this sad phenomenon a few weeks ago in the brutal and senseless murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir when young Jews savagely imitated the behaviour of our enemies and brought shame on the entire Jewish people. 

We live both in the historical moments of the Jewish calendar and in the current events of each and every day. Just as the three weeks pass and we move on to happier times, we hope that this war will end with some semblance of peace and more tranquil  times.

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