Arik Ascherman

“Elohei HaRukhot” Is Very Jewish – Parashat Pinkhas

Left to Right: Elkhanan from the Malakhei HaShalom Outpost and Yehuda Sharabany

In Israel we read this week Parashat Pinkhas, one of the two locations in the Torah where Moses addresses God as Elohei Harukhot l’kol basar (God  of the breath/spirits of all flesh). (Numbers 27:16, and also Numbers 16:22).  The verse jumped out at me both in this week’s portion and when we read it in Parashat Korakh . On June 10th, Yehuda Sharabany, an activist with Im Tirtzu (An organization that in 2013 Jerusalem District Judge Raphael Yaakobi ruled “has certain lines of resemblance”  to fascism.) was childishly harassing us because we were protecting Palestinian shepherds from harassment  by a settler shepherd from the Malakhei HaShalom outpost (illegal according to Israel, as well as the rest of the world)  At the outset of this clip Yehudah says in Hebrew that I am not much of a rabbi because earlier I prayed to Elohei HaRukhot for his spiritual healing.  He claims that I am an apostate. That day he also repeatedly said that only Christians use this phrase.  In addition to Moses addressing God this way, we also find the phrase in the piyut (religious poem) Ashkenazi  Jews recite during the Simkhat Torah  “hakafot” – when we circle our prayer space and dance with the Torah. (Yehuda is not Ashkenazi, so he might not know that.)

In the two cases where Moses uses the phrase Elohei HaRukhot, he does so to rise above his anger and sadness to plea with God on behalf of the people.  After the rebellion of Korakh, Dotan and Aviram, God wants to destroy the entire community.  Moses and Aaron say, “Oh God, God of the spirits of all flesh! When one person sins, will You be wrathful with the entire community?”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments that a person such as Korakh, who his clever with words and has the trust of man, can blind many to the truth and cause them to sin.  We must be aware of the power that those with privileged positions have to mislead.  Those who are mislead share responsibility, but less. According to Hirsch, Moses argues that those who were lead astray and blinded should merit God’s hesed (loving-kindness) and forgiveness.

Yehuda posted his own live video from June 10th that was watched by tens of thousands.  For over 45 minutes (edited down from over an hour) he tries to get a rise out of us by hurling insults and untruths, as we mostly laugh, relax and try to ignore him.  I actually shared his post because it showed better than anything I could make up what we deal with. I was reminded of the story of the merchant who arrives in a shtetl  on the eve of Yom Kippur and asks to leave his money with the rabbi. The rabbi calls in several board members  as witnesses. However, when the merchant comes after Yom Kippur, but the rabbi and the elders claim they have no idea what he is talking about.  The rabbi sends the elders away, and gives the merchant his money.  “Why did you put me through that” the merchant asks. The rabbi replies, “I wanted to show you what my board is like.”

However, everything is in the eyes of the beholder. From the comments, it appears that many of the tens of thousands who watched that same video on the Im Tirtzu facebook page believed what Yehuda was saying, blinded as Rabbi Hirsch says many were blinded by Korakh.  In general, as we approach elections, our leaders and would be leaders must be aware of the power they have to lead people astray.  We must be on our guard.

 In our Torah portion, Moses is told to prepare to die. He implores, “May Adonai, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.  Rabbi Hirsch says that Moses wishes to say that God, Who ensouls every living thing, sustains that soul in life, and takes it back in death, has the intimate knowledge to know who is best suited to replace him.

Our job that day was not to choose a shepherd as Moses asks of God, but to protect and empower shepherds.   We, who are commanded to be as Godlike as humanly possible, need  to emulate every day God’s Compassion for all life.  We must act with hesed , not with hate.  We must intervene for the good of others, not against them.

I was not the main target that day, but rather my fellow human rights defender who was with me, Guy Hirschfeld.  For many weeks now Yehuda and Im Tirtzu have been waging a cyber campaign against him. This week they demonstrated outside his home, material about him has appeared on his daughter’s phone, and they apparently have been spearheading a campaign to freeze his facebook page that is a window for the world to see what we see.  They seem to believe that defending Palestinian human rights is contrary to Zionism, and against the army and the State.  What does that say about Zionism, the army and the State? I think that Zionism, the army and the State can be better than that.

I pray again, “ Elohei HaRukhot l’khol basar may Your Spirit inspire Yehuda and Im Tirtzu to act with hesed  towards all Your creation and every human being-Jewish or non-Jewish, Zionist or not, agreeing with them or not. As our election period heats up, may we all maintain hesed towards each other.  Inspire us to choose shepherds who will bring out the best in us, who will intervene on behalf of others and defend every human being, and who will help us create a society honoring Your Image in all humanity: Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor, men and women.

Shabbat Shalom

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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