The name of this week’s Torah portion, Mas-ei, means “journeys.” This chapter in the Book of Numbers addresses some of the challenges the people of Israel take as they wander through the wilderness.
In our world today, navigating the complexities facing our people can often feel like being lost in the wilderness. With the escalation of the war between Gaza and Israel and with the resurgence of mob driven anti-Semitism in Europe, we are often pressed by coworkers, acquaintances and friends on what we think and believe is going on. While most of us do our best to represent our faith and heritage to the general public, our knowledge is often very limited and we can find ourselves wandering through assumptions we make based on incomplete information.
I personally continue to struggle to find the best navigation tools as the media and social media is woefully partial on all sides. As Jews, however, I do believe there are a few central elements we can continue to hold as central to our communal understanding of the wilderness ahead.
First and foremost in every conversation we have, it is extremely important to express the paramount value of human life. We mourn for the loss of all life. In war the loss of life, especially those who are the innocent victims of conflict, is tragic.
Secondly, we recognize the horrible conditions under which the Palestinian people continue to live. There is a humanitarian crisis which needs to be addressed, but this crisis is not the fault of Israel. Any argument that blames this crisis entirely on the Israeli blockades needs to be refuted. These blockades have been put in place specifically because weapons are consistently smuggled into Gaza through the shipment of everyday supplies.
Thirdly, it is important to emphasize that Israel ONLY wants peace. When people criticize Israel for its military actions, it is important to emphasize that Israel has the right to defend herself and secure its borders like any other country in the world.
Finally, Israel would like nothing more than to exist in a region where it could put down its weapons for good – but that is not the case. If Israel were to put down its weapons and declare unilaterally that it would no longer defend itself, Israel would be annihilated immediately. In contrast, if Hamas unilaterally laid down its weapons and never shot another rocket or committed another act of terror – the result would be peace.
These arguments may be over simplified, but they are rooted in the core principles we hold to be true. While ongoing diligent research is essential to each of our dialogues and arguments in days ahead, these statements can help us navigate the complex political wilderness into which we have been thrown.
L’Shalom — Steve