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Lazer Gurkow

Free Palestine?

Free Palestine?

I was walking home after services on Friday night and passed someone who raised his arm and screamed, “Free Palestine”. I said nothing in response but thought, “I hope Palestine is free, dear chap now that you’ve done your part. And I hope you sleep well, dear chap now that you screamed in my face.”

I then examined the dear chap’s message: Free Palestine. Two words chanted repeatedly as if speaking truth to power. Who can disagree with freedom? I want to be free, you want to be free, and I am sure Palestine, whoever that is, also wants to be free. But two questions: (a) What does it take to be free? And (b) Where in the world is Palestine?

Palestine
Let’s address the second question first. Palestine is a name that Rome devised in the second century to erase any memory of the Jewish bond to Israel.[1] Jews lived in Israel since 1273 BCE. G-d promised it to Abraham in 1743 BCE and repeated the promise to Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, numerous times. In fact, it is the most oft-repeated promise recorded in the Torah and the only land G-d promised to any nation.

Every nation owns their land because they live in it. We live in Israel because it belongs to us. In this sense, our ownership is unique: It doesn’t depend on our occupancy. You can drive us from Israel a thousand times, and it will still belong to us because G-d, its Creator, gave it to us. Our continued claim to Israel did not amuse the Romans after they conquered and defeated us. In a bid to sever the land of Israel from the people of Israel, they gave it a new name with no Jewish association.

Is it not ironic that the very people who seek to drive us from our land today utilize a name that Rome devised to erase our ties to the land two centuries ago? Once we understand this, we realize precisely what this chant means. Free Palestine is not a demand for the freedom of a group of people. It is a demand for the freedom to drive Jews from Israel and to erase our indigenous claim to our ancestral land.

This is not new. In every generation, our enemies rose to destroy us. The Romans, Crusaders, Inquisitions, and Nazis all failed. They are gone and we are here. The Palestinians will fail, too. Not because we are all powerful but because G-d is on our side. You can’t cancel G-d, no matter how woke you are.

Freedom
Having defined Palestine, let’s move to the other word of the slogan: freedom. What does freedom mean? Freedom has two dimensions. Freedom from and freedom for. Moses famously demanded of Pharaoh, “Let me people go.” This was a demand for freedom from bondage. But the question begs itself, to what end did Moses seek freedom? Freedom for—to do—what?

The answer is in the second half of his demand. “Let my people go so they will worship me.” Moses sought freedom from bondage to worship G-d. What do the Palestinians seek freedom for? They seek freedom from Israeli control, but to what end? What do they want to do with that freedom? Do they want to live side by side with Jews?

The answer can be quickly inferred by examining whether Jews can live side by side with them today. When Gaza was handed over to the PA, was a single Jew permitted to remain? Were Jews allowed to move to Gaza under Hamas rule? Can Jews build homes and live in PA-controlled territories today?

We can’t talk about a two-state solution if our enemies seek a one-state solution. We can’t live side by side if they use their side to launch attacks on our side. They don’t seek freedom to live side by side with us. What then? Let my people go so I can murder you? How many terrorists were freed from Israeli prisons only to murder more Jews? Is such freedom warranted, would you, dear chap who chants “Free Palestine” grant someone the freedom to murder you?

Education
To achieve freedom, you must teach your children how to live in freedom. In this Torah portion, we read that G-d told Moses to “tell the kohanim (children of Aharon) and tell them” the restrictions that pertain to them. Rashi notes the redundancy: (a) tell the kohanim and (b) tell them. One would have sufficed. He explains that G-d told Moses to tell the adult kohanim to tell (teach) their children.

Restrictions are difficult for children to accept, and it is the role of parents to present them as privileges rather than burdens. You are privileged to have the responsibility to lead your brethren, and that comes with responsibilities. These are not restrictions; they are accouterments of responsibility. Freedom, my dear chap, is also a responsibility. One that comes with restrictions that we must embrace.

Learn To Sparkle
The Hebrew word that Rashi uses for “teach” is lehazhir. The ordinary word for teaching is lelamed or lehorot. Lehazhir means to warn. Rashi uses the unusual lehazhir to convey a deeper message. Lehazhir is etymologically related to zohar, which means to shine. The message is to present our teachings with bright cheer. Make your children sparkle and shine. Make them luminous and happy.

Moreover, when we infuse bright cheer in our children, it rubs off on us too. Our efforts to help our children see life from a sparkling, sunny, and positive perspective force us to dig deep and find it in ourselves. Before long, we, too, sparkle. This gives us Rashi’s words yet another layer of meaning. Not only do the adults brighten up the children, but the adults also brighten up because of the children.[2]

I want Gaza to be free. Free of Hamas oppression, dictatorship, imposed poverty, and mass indoctrination. I want them to be free to resist turning their homes, schools, and hospitals into bastions of terror. To achieve that, they need to start teaching their children a new narrative. One based on light, love, unity, co-existence, and happiness.

So long as they teach their children to hate, maim, kill, and die, they will not be free. Even if they were to shake off the outer repression, they would remain inherently enslaved to the twisted hatred that consumes their souls. Even if they were to achieve freedom on the outside, they would not be free on the inside. Even if they were handed their freedom, they would throw it away.

Recently, the IDF publicized a telephone conversation between an IDF officer and a family man in Gaza. The officer encouraged him to move his family out of danger. The man told him to go ahead and drop bombs on his family. He said, “We want to die, and our children must also die so we can expose your brutality to the world. We don’t want the peace that comes from you. Everyone wants to die from our side. We love death the way you love life. We don’t want your kindness.”

After winning the battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, American Commandant Oliver Perry wrote to his major general, William Henry Harrison, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The comedian Walt Kelly parodied this famous line and wrote, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

If you teach your children to die, hate, resent, and retaliate, you are your enemy. No matter how many battles you win over others, you can’t be free until you defeat your demons and stop implanting them in your children. In the end, dear chap, screaming in my face won’t free the people of Gaza. Instead, I invite you to go to Gaza, if you have the courage, and try to make a difference. Teach our haters how to sparkle. Free them of their own shackles.

[1] Hayim Hillel. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, p. 334

[2] Likutei Sichos 7, p. 151.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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