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Our Most Recent Test (Vayera 11/04/23)

Our Most Recent Test

In this week’s Parsha, Vayera, Abraham is overtly tested, as it says, “And God tested Abraham, saying, take your son, you only one, the one you love…”

However, the rabbis understood that this was just one of many tests that Abraham faced:

“With ten trials, Abraham, our father, was tried, and he withstood them all. To make known why God’s love for Abraham was so great.” (Pirkei Avot: 5:3)

We, his descendants, continue to be tested. For two thousand years, we survived the harshest exile while holding on to our ideals. We don’t always appreciate these trials. As Tevye once remarked, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Returning to our homeland has not lessened our challenges. Now, with Hamas’ brazen attack, we feel tested once more, for we feel as if we’ve failed our post-Holocaust promise of “Never Again.”

I’d like to share a few first-hand reports that I have received from Israel. Some of them are indeed, dispiriting, but some are uplifting, as well.

One couple writes, “Just wanted to let you know that we’re all fine; other than that everything is really terrible. Everyone knows someone killed, wounded, or kidnapped. It is hard to hear and describe the murderous pogrom that was here. In addition, trust in the government is very low. There is great tension about entering Gaza. The matter of the kidnapped captives is horrific. Our contribution, apart from financial support, is mainly to take care of the grandchildren so that Roni and Orit, in particular, who work as essentials in hospitals, can go to work. In short, the situation is very, very difficult and discouraging.”

I learned the same message from my wife, Judy. She has relatives in Israel. In just one family, seven out of ten of their children (including sons and daughters-in-law) were called into the reserves. They’re now watching the grandchildren.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a noted expert on Israeli society, writes, “At no time in Israeli history, including the first catastrophic days of the Yom Kipper War, has our military credibility been so undermined. Hamas’s blow was devastating because the Army failed so miserably, not only to preempt the attack at the border but to stop the atrocities as they were happening, effectively abandoning the towns and the kibbutzim to their fate. Israelis have never gone to war so lacking faith in their leaders.”

“We’ve never experienced anything like this: a prime minister in time of war who was afraid to mingle with the troops because of the outrage he is likely to encounter. The state has been criminally ineffective in dealing with the basic needs of the survivors. Responsibility for the survivors has become assumed by the activists of the democratic protest movement – those whom this government labeled as ‘traitors.’”

On the other hand, our community concert on the night of October 28th raised $128,000 for the UJA’s work in Israel (one person was so inspired by the event that he donated $100,000). Much of their service is in helping the displaced Israelis.

A rabbi living in Israel, Ariel Rackovsky, also affirms that not all is bad: “Our greatest achievement in the massacre was the way that Israeli society effectively mobilized itself. Many Reservists didn’t wait to be called up. Civilians overwhelmed the blood banks with donations. The paradox of this war is that while the distrust and contempt for our leaders have never been higher, neither has our morale, our love of country, our readiness to sacrifice, or even our ability to unite. Thousands of Israelis flew back home since the massacre to rejoin their reservist units. And all Israelis are starting to rethink their relationship with other Jews.

All of you remember what Israel was like before October 7th – deeply, deeply divided … divided over judicial review, divided over protest movements, divided over the most right-wing government in its history. There was talk of dividing the country between the Kibbutzim and the urban, between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim, between the Hi-Tech and the simple city folk, between the elites and the regulars, between the religious and the secular, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And now, the entire population is rethinking their preconceived notions about their fellow Israelis. Those who thought Haredim (the ultra-religious) were nothing but parasite draft-dodgers are now contending with the fact that a significant number of them are moved to enlist. Additionally, they travel around the country, giving out food and handing supplies and hugs to soldiers. And Haredim, who felt that secular Jews were anti-religious leftist sinners, are contending with the reality that they’re defending them now. There is also an upswing of interest in Yiddishkeit as a result of this war, and they are bringing tefillin and tzitzit to secular Israeli soldiers who now want to wear them. We’re learning that our fellow Jews are not racists and homophobes and traitors and deserters and parasites. They are our fellow Jews. And we are all in this as one.”

The couple we quoted earlier concludes, “Three weeks since Black Sabbath. The war is underway. Everyone does what they can. Some work in agriculture to save the crops of vegetables and fruits of farmers who have been called to the reserves. Others help by selling potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and flowers from their yards. Many are engaged in cooking and collecting clothing for evacuees who are in every sort of place. And many come to the soldiers’ gathering places, bringing them food and tastes of home. The general feeling is unbearable, but together, there’s an exhilaration because we are a wonderful people. There’s no account for the wonderful solidarity we are exhibiting.”

Our forefather, Abraham, was tested numerous times, and because of his love for God, he withstood them all. Abraham paved the road for us. For whatever reason, our tests continue, but thankfully, we continue to prevail. We will overcome this one, too.

Am Yisrael Chai,

R’ Neil

P.S. On Sunday night, the Town of Oyster Bay organized a vigil for Israel and the Neutra family, parents of hostage Omer Neutra. The speakers were excellent, but what made the event special was the outpouring of support from our Plainview-Old Bethpage, Syosset, and Woodbury Communities. Of the two thousand attendees, many were from MHJC. When we work and rally together, we give each other strength.

This year, the POB Interfaith Thanksgiving Service will be held on Tuesday, November 21, at 7 p.m. at MHJC. While the Thanksgiving service’s focus is usually centered around our gratitude to America, this year, we’ll also address the unique concerns of the Jewish community concerning Israel and our larger quest for world peace. Please join in this beautiful event as our community of many faiths comes to strengthen each other.

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