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A prayer–and an admonition–for the Jewish New Year

Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom sent out the following message from Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, who is on their Rabbinic Cabinet. I don’t normally deal with matters of religion on this blog. But I think this is worth reading and taking to heart, whatever your religion. Happy New Year to all.

Around the world at this High Holy Day season, we Jews examine our souls, assess our past behavior, make amends for our sins and misdeeds, and resolve to do better in the year to come. This annual cheshbon nefesh, this inventory of our inner selves, is intended to inspire us to become better people, and to create a better world.

This process is communal as much as it is personal. We do not pray Ashamti, I have sinned, but Ashamnu, we have sinned; we do not pray Avi Malachi, My Parent, My Ruler, but Avinu Malkeinu, Our Parent, Our Ruler. As Jews, we are obligated to work together to engage in acts of tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

Our Haftarah reading on Yom Kippur morning makes clear to us exactly what this means:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin. (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Isaiah reminds us that, as Jews who know what it is to be oppressed, we must care deeply about the oppression of others. As Jews who treasure family above all else, we must care deeply about the pain suffered by our kin. The words of Isaiah compel us to strive for peace, not just in our own household, but also between our brothers and sisters in Israel, and our cousins the Palestinians.

Our kinship with the Palestinians and the Biblical imperative to treat them as family is brought home on Rosh Hashanah, when we read in Genesis 21:13 that God assures and comforts Abraham concerning Ishmael -“I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

The Torah teaches us it is never too late for reconciliation between siblings. When Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael bury him together. The rabbis tell us that the brothers eventually learned to put aside old grievances and to make peace. So, too, can we, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, learn to reconcile, to forget old enmities, and to live together, side by side.

This is, to be sure, not an easy task, nor one which can be completed quickly — but neither can it be ignored. Our tradition teaches that Yom Kippur will not absolve us of transgressions between ourselves and God, until we have made amends for transgressions between us and our fellow human beings. Let us each pledge to do our part this coming year so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in normalcy, peace, and security. Let us build bridges to our Muslim neighbors, stand behind our Israeli brothers and sisters in their efforts to bring peace, and support the efforts of the Palestinians to create their own sovereign state.

Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be so.

13 thoughts on “A prayer–and an admonition–for the Jewish New Year

  1. L’ Shana Tova.

    Even Jacob and Esau reconciled, though they each had radically different narratives of the birthright.

  2. Richard-
    Your statement that “Jacob and Esau reconciled” is not supported by reading the whole Torah. Yes, they did meet, seemingly peacefully, on Jacob’s return to the Land of Canaan, yet you will note that Jacob did everything to stay away from him after that meeting. After the Exodus, the Edomites, decedents of Esau threatened war if the Benei Israel even came near their land, even though Moses made clear they were not going to stop there or damage their property. The eternal enemy of Israel, which is Amalek, is a grandson of Esau . There was conflict between Edom and teh Benei Israel for generations. Thus, Esau passed on a lot of hatred against the Benei Israel to his progeny.

  3. So how did that story transpire in some detail, to get the actual teaching of it?

    Torah is a description of what to do, and what not to do.

  4. Richard,
    I am not sure what your question is, but there is a principle in the Torah called “ma’aseh ha’avot, siman l’banim” — which, loosely translated means “the events the Patriarchs were involved in served as prototypes for the succeeding generations”. In other words, we don’t look at the Patriarchs of the Torah and their actions as simply the events affecting those few people, but rather, they carry an imprint that lasts through the generations. If Jacob and Esau had a conflict, it was passed on to their decendents. Esau’s jealousy of Jacob became the prototype for Edom’s (the kingdom Esau’s decendents established east of the Dead Sea at Mt Seir) hostility to the Biblical Kingdom’s of Judah and Israel. Jewish tradition says that Edom’s influence was transferred later to the Roman Empire, who are considered the spiritual (if not actual physical) decendents of Esau. This was later transferred to the Roman Catholic Church, at least in a symbolic way, and Esau’s hostility to Jacob is seen reflected in traditional church hostility to the Jews. But, as you pointed out, we do see something of a reconciliation (if only partial and temporary) between the two, and we can see this reflected today in the support the Christian world gave in supporting the Balfour Declaration and the creation of the State of Israel.

    Of course, this is primarily homiletical, symbolic and philosophic, and not really political, but the paralles between the Biblical stories and modern history are interesting.

  5. I do not understand why Y. Ben-David focuses on the one line assertion posted by Richard instead of the full commentary posted by Dan Fleshler.

    Lets stop postponing and start resolving. Lets get in touch with Earthly reality.

  6. Lee-
    I agree 100%. Now, tell me what you are going to do with the “Palestinian Right of Return” and refusal of the Arabs to acknowledge the historical/religious connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount. After it was these issues that prevented any peace agreement being reached in the past. You are going to have to “resolve” these matters if you want peace.

  7. A profile of Abbas’ likely successor as head of the Palestinian Authority:

    Rubin makes a very important point in this piece,
    there is very little media analysis about Palestinian society and political life. Everything if focussed on the question of whether the “rais” (leader) is going to sign a piece of paper with Israel, not on the various constraints his people put on him, as if achieving peace is merely a matter of appealing to his ego in order to convince him to sign on.

  8. Yaakov–interesting article.

    So…if Israel continues to create a barrier between Gaza & the West Bank–and the Palestinians prepare themselves for continued armed struggle, what does this scenario look like for the 20 years?

  9. Suzanne-
    I can’t predict the future, but look at Cyprus, for example. The Turks ousted thousands of Greek Cypriots from part of the island when they invaded in 1974 (their invasion was the result of various provocations by extremist Greek Cypriots). The island is divided and so is the capital Nicosia. Yet, there is quiet. No one has succeeded in reunifying the island, no one recognizes the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, yet the two sides maintain a cease fire. The Greek Cypriots, instead of nursing their resentments, decided to economically develop their side of the island and are thriving.

    Once the world stops pushing the Arabs (including the Palestinians) to make “peace” with Israel, including “recognizing Israel” and formally giving up the “right of return”…things they can never agree to, then hopefully, they will develop a more pragmatic, Greek-Cypriot-like, modus-vivendi. Of course, this will require radical, political Islam to be seen to be in retreat, something that we MAY (or may not) be seeing the first signs of in Iran itself. If this happens, there can be a general relaxation in the Middle East, but it will take time. Meanwhile, Israel has to simply hold on, which it seems it what is Netanyahu’s policy, and he has a strong national consensus behind him, in contrast to Olmert’s phrenetic “we must have a Palestinian state as soon as possible” negotiations which led to TWO wars within 3 years.

  10. Yaakov–that actually a lot of makes sense to me.

    I think the big mistake we outsiders are making is believing we can impose our desires and beliefs on the situation–and try to bend Israelis and Palestinians to our will (depending on which side we take).

    Peace will likely never be brought about by external parties.

  11. My understanding of Torah is that references to specific historical peoples is ludicrous, that the notion of patriarchs is of archetypes, personality characteristics, NOT of literal consistent heritage characteristics.

    Its a bad sign if that is the case, especially given that the most oft-repeated descriptors of Jews are rebellious, and stiff-necked people.

    Torah should be the roadmap to be whole individual people, and whole community, a community suitable to serve as “nation of priests”, substantively.

    The Jacob-Esau story is especially problematic if it is meant to represent continual national character and relationship.

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