“It’s Simple… it’s complicated”

Posted on November 2, 2023

By Hazzan Jacob Sandler.

The war in Israel continues to fill my heart with grief. I find myself torn seeing those who have always espoused peace and justice fail to lend their compassion toward Jews worldwide. At best I hear silence, failure to condemn the atrocities of October 7th even now, when it feels too little too late anyhow. Despite this, I still welcome the gesture, and I do appreciate the three individuals who could only privately share their support. At worst I see folks who believe and perpetuate lies on social media, emboldening those who would prefer me and us dead. Where do they expect us to go? We already tried going back to where we came from, and are accused of being colonizers for it. It breaks my heart. And I hold hope that those who spread these narratives really aren’t antisemitic on purpose. Perhaps they are ignorant to the ways that rhetoric affects my own sense of safety. But I told them. I spoke up and I shared how we’ve bolstered security like crazy. How I’ve worn hats in the city at night just in case. Of all the things I said, I didn’t even see a half-baked apology for how it feels to be a Jew in America right now. The Psalm for Wednesday, Psalm 94, writes, “How long will the wicked, Hashem, how long will the wicked rejoice?” I wonder.

I wonder what our ancestors would think about what’s going on. In this week’s parasha, Vayera, God’s messengers set out to destroy Sodom and Gommorah. Abraham speaks out to God, saying:

חָלִ֨לָה לְּךָ֜ מֵעֲשֹׂ֣ת ׀ כַּדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה לְהָמִ֤ית צַדִּיק֙ עִם־רָשָׁ֔ע וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּרָשָׁ֑ע חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כׇּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃

“Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
And God listens to Abraham bargain for the lives of 50…40…30…20…and finally says:

לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית בַּעֲב֖וּר הָעֲשָׂרָֽה׃

“I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.”

So while it feels like so few are mourning the Jews, and not nearly enough are screaming for the return of hostages, I also spill drop after drop of wine from the Passover cup. No one I know is rejoicing or celebrating the loss of life going on in this war. Perhaps we should spare Gaza if only for the sake of 10. But that’s not how the story goes in our parasha. There weren’t 10… Lot begged his sons-in-law to leave and they didn’t. The IDF continues to warn the innocent, begging them to stay out of harm’s way. What more can we really do? And it’s tragic. All of it. I’m left only with the words of Kohelet, who shares my growing cynicism:

אֶת־הַכֹּ֥ל רָאִ֖יתִי בִּימֵ֣י הֶבְלִ֑י יֵ֤שׁ צַדִּיק֙ אֹבֵ֣ד בְּצִדְק֔וֹ וְיֵ֣שׁ רָשָׁ֔ע מַאֲרִ֖יךְ בְּרָעָתֽוֹ׃

“In my own brief span of life, I have seen both these things: sometimes a good man perishes in spite of his goodness, and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness.” This directly contradicts Abraham’s message to God, but all of us have seen this play out in one way or another.

I don’t have the answers, or even a particularly hopeful message. All I know is that we are to blot out the memory of Amalek – and today, that means Hamas. Let us not be consumed by rage, and thereby turn into the ‘genocidal regime’ they claim we are. Let us muster our strength and resolve to do what is necessary, and when the dust settles work for real and lasting peace in security in Israel. I will continue to pray for the hostages immediate return, the safety of our soldiers, and our fellow Jews worldwide in the face of growing antisemitism. I will continue to mourn the innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza. And I will cry out for a lasting peace to come speedily, and in our lifetime.