Sarah Levy

Conflict in Israel: An Opportunity to Show Our True Colors

I am not a political person. I mean, I vote in the elections, and I have very strong feelings related to political issues, but I almost always keep my opinions to myself probably because I am also not a controversial person, and I really don’t want to get into a debate with anyone about the very personal and very engrained beliefs that I hold. So, because I am a person who likes to feel in control, I tend to avoid such topics.

In sitting down to write this month’s post, however, I just couldn’t think of writing about anything other than Israel (talk about your controversial topic!). My husband is Israeli, and all of his family is in Israel. I lived in Israel for years, and I have many friends there. Additionally, I really do feel that is my obligation, as a Jew, to care about Israel – the people, the land, and the State. As such, each morning, when we wake up, both my husband and I spend a good amount of time reading the news that we missed while we were peacefully sleeping. I spend my days constantly checking various outlets for updates. I don’t go to sleep until I feel I know as much as I could possibly know about the situation, just hoping not too much changed before I wake again.

I read not only the news, but I read all of the op-eds and blog and Facebook posts, examining and comparing not only the happenings and events, but the way everyone reacts. Reactions, I find, are often more telling than any original action.

So this, for now, is my reaction, and so, for right now, I have Israel on my mind. When I have something on my mind, I have a tendency to try to shed light on it by relating it to either an episode of Friends (as a product of my generation) of something from Torah (as a Jewish educator). I am sure if I tried, I could connect a scene or episode of Friends to my thoughts on Israel, but referring to the Tanach just seems more appropriate at this time, and what comes to mind is King David.

Our history is filled with kings – some great kings and some not so great kings. None of our kings have been perfect, but who would probably be considered the best?

Most people would probably answer David (and I certainly would). David is, after all, the source of the line of the mashiach. David was far from perfect, and, yet, why will the mashiach come from his line?

The Talmud (Yoma 23b) also questions this, saying, “Shaul sinned once and it brought [calamity] upon him; David sinned twice and it did not bring evil upon him.”

So why is this the case? Why, with Shaul’s one sin, does he lose his spot in the Tanach All Stars line-up, and, yet, with David’s two sins, he still is the team captain?

The key to answering this question is in his reaction. When David’s sin is highlighted for him, his response is, “Chatati la-Hashem – I have sinned against the Lord.” As soon as he realizes his sin, he recognizes it, takes responsibility, and begins to repent.

Other kings, when faced with a similar situation, reacted in a totally different way. They were angry or ordered the prophet harmed. Yerov’am ben Nevat and Achazya in the Book of Kings acted in this way, for example. Others tried to make excuses in order to shirk responsibility such as King Shaul who constantly tried to justify his actions.

David, however, is not angry, did not threaten the prophet, and did not make excuses. He simply says “Chatati la-Hashem – I have sinned against the Lord.” In response to his reaction of accepting responsibility and repenting, David is saved from death, as the prophet tells him: “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.

Rav Amnon Bazak sheds additional light on the situation, explaining, “Against this fall stands the greatness of David’s person as it was expressed on various occasions in the past, and it may be concluded that David learned his lesson, and that the serious episode reflects the exception, rather than the rule – unlike Shaul, whose fall reflected an essential flaw in his leadership, and therefore led to his losing the kingdom.” Through David’s reaction, he shows that his sin was a fluke and not indicative of his character, allowing for his positive attributes to outweigh his mistakes.

David is my favorite Biblical character to study because he is so human, so real, and so flawed…and, yet, he still goes down in history as perhaps the best King in the history of Israel.

In this case, we can learn from David about the importance of appropriate reactions. Rarely can we control what happens to use, but we can control how we react to those situations. Often we make mistakes without thinking, but we can control how we react when our errors come to light. Sometimes we act on impulse, but we can control how we react during the aftermath.

Thinking about the current situation in Israel through the lens of David and his reactions, we cannot control who lives and who dies, but we can choose to value every human life. We can decide to support the families of the victims. We can commit to coming together as a people to best support our people. Through choosing how to react, even in the worst of times, each of us can clearly demonstrate our (to use Rav Bazak’s words) “person as it was expressed on various occasions in the past.” No one is perfect. No people is perfect, and no nation is perfect, but through our reactions, we can show our true colors.

Always, and especially now, so much of our lives are out of our control. Let’s focus on what we can control and react in a way that truly brings out the best in all of us.

About the Author
Dr. Sarah Levy holds a Master of Jewish Education and Certificate in Day School Education from Hebrew College as well as a Certificate of Advanced Jewish Studies as a graduate of the Pardes Educators Program. She has also earned a Doctorate of Education from Northeastern University with a Certificate in Jewish Leadership Studies. She has over twelve years of experience in the field of Jewish education, including experiential, supplemental and day school education. After teaching for the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD for the past three years, she now lives with her family in Denver, CO where she teaches for Denver Jewish Day School, coordinates a synagogue high school educational program, is the director of adult education for the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education, and develops Jewish Studies curriculum for different programs locally and virtually.