Arik Ascherman

Curses We Must Hear Loud and Clear

Parashat Ki Tavo is filled with blessings and curses.  Traditionally we read the curses in a whisper. Perhaps, in this month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days, God wants us to hear them loud and clear. One of the curses is “Cursed be the one who makes the blind go astray.” (Deuteronomy 27:18)  Our sages taught that “the blind” does not refer just to those who physically can’t see.  Making the blind go astray, or putting a stumbling block before the blind refers to temptations, and to exploiting weaknesses, lack of knowledge, etc.  That is what happens when we distort the truth, hide realities, and at best mention uncomfortable facts in a whisper.

Two perversions of facts stood out for me this week:

  1. The Jerusalem District Court (Newly authorized to conduct the first hearing on Palestinian Occupied Territories issues, instead of going straight to the High Court.) applied the recently passed “Legalization of Theft Law” (Arrangements Law) to permit the Mitzpeh Kramim outpost to be legalized, because the Jewish settlers “innocently” built their homes on what Israel acknowledges is private Palestinian land. As I said on Channel 20 the next day, there is no such thing as “innocently” building on private Palestinian land. If they didn’t know when they showed up, they didn’t try very hard to find out.
  2. Al Araqib. The Al Turi tribe has documents recording a series of land purchases from the Al Ukbi tribe between 1906-1920.  Yet, when Torat Tzedek (Torah of Justice) published a video of Sheikh Sayakh speaking after his appeal of a 10 month jail sentence for “trespassing” on his own land, and called on the to come this week to the weekly Al Araqib vigil at the Lehavim junction at 16:30, many reactions repeated this perversion of the truth. This idea that all the Arabs we wish to displace are squatters and trespassers on land they have no legitimate claim to is a self serving form of blindness.  Also on Channel 20, the hosts maintained that the residents of Palestinian Susya and  Khan Al Akhmar are trespassers.  In fact, the pro-settler government lawyer Plia Albeck wrote in 1982 that she was having trouble finding a place for a new settlement because of Susya’s privately owned land.  For a period of time the government succeeded in convincing the courts that the residents of Um Al Hiran were trespassers, until it was proven that they are on their current lands because the government sent them there.

These actions bring a second curse upon us.  “Cursed be the one who perverts justice/subverts the rights of the non –Jew living among you, the fatherless and the widow.”(Deuteronomy 27:19).  The classic Torah commentator Ibn Ezra explains:

“For they have no power (oz.  In some versions: ozer – nobody to help them.)  And s/he is transparent.  The text specifies the ger, and also the orphan and the widow, because if the judge subverts the legal proceedings of others they will appeal his/her decision and make the matter known.  However, the ger, the orphan and the widow have no power.”

The Torah is not speaking only of non-Jews, but all those who are weak and powerless in our society.  In spite of what Ibn Ezra says, denying justice or rights does not only take place in courts of law, but in all aspects of society.  On August 19th the Haaretz newspaper reported that the Dekalei Psagot building company was not turning over apartments that Amidar had purchased for families eligible for public housing because of complaints by “normative” families that public housing families would bring down property values.  We who have been fighting for public housing have been demanding integration, rather than public housing ghettos.   In addition to this being more healthy for public housing families,  we believe that all of society benefits when we break down barriers.  I recall crying in the principal’s office at the end of 5th grade when my late parents informed us that we would be moving from an elitist private school to a public school.  I can’t thank my parents enough for the gift that they gave me – the gift of learning how to connect with people from all walks of life and a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our Torah portion opens with the first fruits ritual quoted on Passover and once carried out on Shavuot.  We sear that we have not forgotten to share all that we have with the non-Jews living among us, the orphan and the widow.

I might only add that an essential component of our society’s bounty is the fellow members of our society.

May this Shabbat and this month of Elul inspire us to but away our many forms of willful blindness and self serving lies that lead us to oppress others with a clean conscience.  On the positive side, if this Shabbat and this month of Elul bring us in some small way to better appreciate the blessing of our diverse society, we will be offering to God a truly wonderful first fruit giving hope of the manifold blessings that are yet to come.


About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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