Parashat B’midbar

Friday, May 18, 2018 /4 Sivan, 5778
Parashat B’midbar Numbers 1:1-4:20
Over the course of the last several days many people have asked for my perspective on recent events in Israel. Between the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and the violence that continues to flare on the border between Gaza and Israel, it has been a difficult week in the Jewish world.   Predictably, many asked, “Rabbi, what do you think?”
In a nutshell, this is what I think.
I do not live in an “either/or” world, but rather in a “both/and” world.
What does that mean?
“Either/or” reduces complex, morally fraught situations that are political, diplomatic and strategic into opinions that are black or white. There is no place for gray.
Too often, reports in support of Israel’s actions or in support of the Gazans actions paint a picture that is black and white, “either/or”. As I have maintained, our discussions about Israel most often live in the realm of “both/and” because that is where nuance resides.
Regarding the Embassy:
I believe that Jerusalem is, has always been, and will always be the capital of Israel; I believe that a sovereign nation has the right to designate its capital; I believe that United States has the right to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
I believe that it was not the most prudent diplomatic or strategic decision to make at this moment in time. It was, of course, motivated primarily by politics.
The embassy move, however, is easy in comparison to Gaza. The situation along the Gaza border provides a much greater moral challenge. The tragic events there are about life and death, safety and security, protest, propaganda and failed promises.
I believe that the Israel Defense Force has a moral obligation to defend Israel against Hamas terrorists who attempt to breach the border wall between Gaza and Israel and infiltrate Israel to harm and kill Israelis;
I believe that loss of any life but especially innocent bystanders is terribly sad, tragic and, yes, preventable.
I believe that any Gazan who approaches the border fence, whether they are twenty five or fifteen, knows exactly what could happen and is prepared to die or get injured for their cause, and bears some responsibility for what transpires;
I believe that IDF soldiers are put in an untenable, chaotic and dangerous situation. They know that every Palestinian injured or killed becomes a cause celebre in the eyes of the international community and that Israel has to confront the ramifications resulting from the asymmetrical violence and loss of life.
It is difficult to find nuanced voices rise above those that are fully entrenched on one side or the other. Therefore, I look to consistent voices that I trust, and whose opinions I find compelling. I also look for new voices that speak the language of “both/and”.
I’ve provided links to a selection of articles that I have found helpful this week. From Rabbi Donniel Hartman, an opinion piece called The Moral Challenge of Gaza; an  account from an Israeli soldier on the front lines; a  New York Times article about the tragic death of an 8 month old child in Gaza and some of the propaganda surrounding this painful incident;  an op-ed, and “Thirteen Inconvenient Truths” about Gaza. These are just a few pieces of journalism that you may find helpful as well.
Invoking the words of Psalm 122, may we all pray for the peace of Jerusalem, all of Israel, and the entire region. May all leaders on all sides find the courage to act for peace, and work to prevent more war.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Charles K. Briskin