For the sin we have sinned against You through drunken eyes

I have on a number of occasions heard of people suddenly waking up to realize that they had been doing terrible deeds, and feeling as if they had been intoxicated, or in a dream.  In the last version of the Yom Kippur vidui (confession) that I created two years ago (reposted on my Facebook page-“Arik Ascherman”), I played a bit fast and loose with the verse, “For the sin we have sinned against You through shikur ayin.  This is indeed one of the more difficult terms to understand in the entire vidui.  “Shikur” could come from the word sheker, meaning “lie.”  Shikur ayin  is often translated as lying or haughty eyes.  I translated it as “drunken eyes,” although in fact it is written with a kuf ( ק ), whereas shikur meaning “drunk” would be written with a kaf (כ ). However, I truly feel that our government acts drunk with its own power.  Many of us are blinded or intoxicated by the holiness of the Land of Israel. One day our society will hopefully wake from our intoxicating dream and say, in the same way that individuals have done, “What have we been doing? Was that really us?”

A history of powerless ad oppression contribute to this drunkenness.  When people have been starving for a long time, there is a danger that they will eat themselves to death when food is placed before them.  We Jews suffered for 2,000 years, and those who have political power in Israel today feel that for many years they were the oppressed within Israeli society. We are driven to consume, to have everything for ourselves, and to oppress, in compensation for our years of suffering.

In Midrash Tanhuma’s commentary on the story of the drunkenness of Noah, Satan pours the blood of a lamb, lion, monkey and pig on the roots of the grape vines.  Thus, after one cup of wine a person is passive like a lamb. After two s/he feels they are as mighty as lion. After three s/he begins to dance around like a monkey. After four cups, s/he wallows in the mud like a pig.  Interestingly, I didn’t remember the lamb, until I rechecked the midrash.  In any case, our government, and much of our society is in the lion stage.  We have deep seated fears, and still feel that there is a threatening world around us, but outwardly we are intoxicated with our own power.

I fear what will happen afterwards.

Our prime minister tells us that things have never been better, even as he tries to scare us by invoking the existential threat posed by a hostile world. We have a friend in the White House, countries are opening their doors to us, and much of the third world is eager for our assistance.  Our economy is good (Even though we can’t seem to find the money to pay the handicapped incapable of working a stipend comparable to minimum wage.)

Powerful as lions, the ruling coalition can promote rampant enlarging of settlements, retroactively legalizing outposts, and pass a law permitting the theft of Palestinian lands known to be privately owned.  We can openly consider annexation and ruthlessly escalate the war against our own Israeli Bedouin citizens.  We are a little more cautious when violating the human rights of fellow Jews, piously maintain our concern for the disadvantaged, even as the handicapped need to resort to blocking roads to call attention to their plight.  The ruling coalition refuses to add a sentence about full and equal rights for all citizens in the proposed “Nationality Law” that downgrades the status of Arabic and makes it clear to our non-Jewish citizens that Jews are to enjoy privilege and power. Vicious attacks on our judiciary are not new, but our Justice Minister now plans a law that will ensure that members of the judiciary know their place…

This week there was more fuel to the fire.  The current government used their power to create a new “State Ceremony” unlike any other, with a clear political message.  State ceremonies are supposed to be relatively consensus and non-controversial. This ceremony celebrated 50 years of settlements.  Our Prime Minister proclaimed that no more settlements would ever be uprooted. The outgoing High Court President Miriam Naor prohibited any High Court judge from attending such a controversial ceremony, even though protocol calls for the High Court to have a representative at State ceremonies.  We heard a hue and cry, proclaiming that this demonstrates why the High Court must be reined in.

Intoxicated by power, there fewer and fewer red lines.

We now feel we have a green light from Washington to wipe out entire communities, such as Susya and Khan Al Akhmar, and speak openly about destroying them by mid-2018. The world has always treated as an “internal matter” the threats to destroy and dispossess Bedouin communities inside Israel such as Al Araqib and Umm Al Hiran.  Members of each of these villages are literally asking thereselves whether their community will live or die in the coming year.

There are some who point out Israel’s shortcomings in order to claim that we are a colonialist outpost with no right to exist.  I believe that we have as much right to exist as any nation state, but not more.  I do not wish that we desecrate ourselves like a pig wallowing in the mud. I fervently want us to awaken from our stupor. I also know that, if we do, there will be incredible pain when we take an honest look in the mirror and ask, “what have we done?”   As we know from Birkat HaMazon (The Blessing After Meals) in the version recited on Shabbat and holidays, the psalmist already predicted that we would feel as if we were dreaming when we returned to Zion  (Psalm 126).  It is proper that we should feel that our return is a dream fulfilled, and continue to dream.  My dream is the dream of our Declaration of Independence, that Israel will guarantee equality to all, “regardless of “religion, race or gender,” and be a country based on “Freedom, justice and peace, as envisioned by the prophets of Israel.”

“For the sin we have sinned against you with drunken and lying eyes.”

Ultimately, it makes perfect sense that the kuf and kaf are interchangeable in shikur.  When we are drunk with power, our eyes deceive us, and we live a lie.

Our God and God of our ancestors, Who commanded us to pursue justice, and not oppress others as we were oppressed, may we wake up from our intoxicated and intoxicating dream.  May we face the inevitable pain of realization with courage.  May we return to our truest and highest selves, and to the path You ordained for us.  May we go on to dream holy dreams.

G’mar Khatima Tova – May God’s Final Seal, and the seal we create for our selves, be life

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.