Once Again Death, Pain And Suffering Have Hit The Land Of Israel. Why? [Parshat Toldot By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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I write these words as a funeral takes place in Israel, the funeral of a young mother of three, pregnant with what was to be her fourth. Her husband and three precious children are critically ill, fighting for survival. 25 year old Mira Scharf  lived in India with her family, doing outreach work with the local Jewish community in Delhi. In Israel to give birth to their fourth child, she was planning to attend the yahrtzeit ceremony for Rabbi Gabi & Rifky Holtzberg, slain in Mumbai four years ago. Now their souls will meet in Heaven.

Scharf Family in Delhi. Photo: Yehonathan Elozory

Also killed in the same rocket attack were two men, one young and single, one married and a father of three children born after fourteen years of prayer, medicine and hope.

Once again death, pain and suffering have hit the land of Israel, and once again we wonder why. What pushes these residents of  Gaza to rain down rockets on a civilian population, knowing that innocent men, women and children will die on BOTH sides? What madness drives them to fire rockets from schools, playgrounds and residential zones, knowing that their own precious children may be hit in return fire. Golda Meir meant it when she said, “Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.

Of course there is suffering in Gaza, of course there is frustration, anger, hatred and despair. But is killing women and unborn children the answer? Does giving generations of young Israeli schoolchildren nightmares and trauma fix the problems? Of course not, it only compounds them. The solution has been pointed out year after year, decade after decade: Put down the weapons, renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist. In return, Israel will retire its army, remove the roadblocks and take down the separation walls and barriers. Once again Arab, Christian and Jew will be able to live, work and socialise together. Everyone will benefit. The unemployed will have work, the youth will have education, and the region will have peace. As always the Hamas response is unequivocal: “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with it” (Khartoum resolution 1967).


In the Torah portion this week we read of the birth of the fractious twins, Yaakov and Eisav (Jacob and Esau). These two protagonists of the parsha struggled from the very beginning of their lives together … Eisav is born with Yaakov grasping his heel, trying to hold him back. Rashi quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai  (Gen 33:4) as saying that “It is a well-known tradition that Eisav hates Yaakov.” The immiscible nature of these two brothers was not a rational one, it was hard wired into their very being from their conception. They may not have even understood themselves what the root cause of their differences was.

It seems that the age old Jacob-Esau enmity is alive and well in the world today, and for those who are too politically correct to be anti-Semitic, being anti-Israeli is almost as good and wholly acceptable. Criticism of any government, including Israel, can be healthy and productive … twisting the narrative and changing the facts prior to criticism is something altogether different. Those with short memories will have forgotten the tremendous upheaval Israeli society went through to withdraw every last citizen and soldier from Gaza in 2005. Thousands of citizens were forcibly removed; hundreds of homes, businesses, synagogues and schools were evacuated and bulldozed. Gaza was made Judenrein as a “sacrifice for Peace,” to give the white dove a chance to fly. Even the cemetery was moved and the bodies reinterred. The raw pain and emotion of that evacuation took its toll on Israeli society, and threatened to tear it apart, but the dream of a potential lasting peace with its neighbours kept Israel together. A few short years later and that evacuated land is now a giant launching pad for rockets, both crude and sophisticated, anti-tank missiles and terror attacks.

Thousands of rockets have rained down on Israeli citizens, Arab, Jew and Christian alike from the evacuated Gaza strip. Millions of Israeli citizens suffer the ongoing trauma of having to be within 15 seconds, day or night, of a bomb shelter. Any country undergoing incessant indiscriminate rocket fire has no choice but to retaliate in self-defence and as a deterrent. In fact, any government that did not act to protect its citizens would be criminally negligent.

Yet as soon as the IDF is given the green light to destroy the rocket launchers and the forces who operate them, the world wakes up in alarm. Bells ring in the UN and the EU. In Kafkaesque style, emergency meetings are called and resolutions are passed, always against Israel acting in self-defence. No matter that over 30,000 have been slaughtered in neighbouring Syria … Israel will be at the top of the agenda, and will inevitably be condemned as the aggressor.

Libels and base accusations about our people are nothing new. In medieval times the Jew used Christian blood to make matzah; in Protocols of the Elders of Zion the Jew controls and manipulates the world; in Mein Kampf the Jew lies in wait to defile the Aryan woman. Why are we still shocked today? Eisav Soneh Le’Yaakov … there will always be those who hate, there will always be those blinded by prejudice and bigotry.

Yet as the clock-hands of history continue ticking, we want to believe that the world has changed, that it has learned from its errors, its pogroms and genocides, its slavery and child labour. Sadly, it hasn’t.

As we watch from afar as the rockets rain down, and the bombs are dropped in response we can only pray — we can pray for that elusive peace to finally arrive; we can pray for our Arab neighbours and Muslim cousins in the Middle East to realise that we dream of peace more than anything in the world; we can pray that the journalists record the truth rather than shape the truth; we can pray that people free their minds of preconception and bias and look at the facts honestly. Most of all we can pray, on this yahrtzeit of Gabi & Rifky Holtzberg, that Mashiach will arrive soon, ushering in an era of international peace and harmony for all colour and creed, a time when Eisav and Yaakov unite in brotherly love. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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