Holiness Must Be Worked For

Shavua Tov.  The Friday  events described below explain why I wasn’t able to publish a dvar Torah before Shabbat, but also gave me the opportunity to further reflect on the command that opens the second of the two Torah portions we read this Shabbat, “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)  We are not told “You are holy.” Rather, we are commanded you SHALL be holy. In other words, holiness must be achieved. Among the many elements of holiness laid out in our Torah portion, there we are told what we must do, and what we must not do.  There are ritual commandments and commandments how to treat our fellow human beings. Achieving holiness requires thought, effort and action on our part. It also entails actively combating what is not holy.

I faced a dilemma on Friday. Shabbat was approaching, and I was still in the Occupied Territories trying to persuade Israel’s security forces to deal in real time with human rights violations and Jewish harassment of non-Jews they often prefer to ignore. After documenting how settlers are now harassing Bedouin by traveling day and night between their homes, I was now with a settler shepherd who had brought his flock to steal what others had planted and was coming threateningly close to the Bedouin shepherd who lived there.  Uncharacteristically,  the border police were actually on the way. How close to Shabbat should I wait?

I utilized the time to begin writing this dvar Torah:

This is not holy.  It is not right to noisily drive next to somebody’s home at midnight, back and forth from an outpost explicitly designed to deny a fellow human being access to the grazing lands he has shepherded his flocks on for decades.  It is not right to bring your flock to graze in a field that somebody else has planted, and is counting on to feed his flock.  It is not right that the police and army find every possible excuse not to protect fellow human beings.

This is not honoring the holiness of the Land of Israel.  It is certainly not “You shall love the one who is essentially like you as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), You shall show deference the elderly”  (Leviticus 19:32),] “You shall not defraud  your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. (Leviticus 19:13), or so many of the other commandments that our double portion defines as holiness.

And for those who maintain that these commandments only for how we treat our fellow Jews:

“When a non-Jew resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him/her.

The non-Jew who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I, Adonai, am your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If we are commanded to leave the corners of our fields for the poor and for the non-Jew living among us (Leviticus 19:9-10), we certainly should not be taking what they have planted.

I should already be home getting ready for Shabbat, but am writing this dvar Torah in the midst of what should be a thriving field. However, it is already  bare and brown because of the settler flock that came and ate what had been planted here.

I had to stop writing for a few minutes, because now the settler flock has returned to the area. They went through a cultivated area and then into an uncultivated area, but one the Bedouin shepherds is scared because the settler shepherd has come close.  Seeing me, the settler shepherd moved away from the Bedouin shepherd, but came back into a semi cultivated area — an area where the Bedouin had begun to plant, but had been stopped by the settlers.


The border police did show up to send the settler shepherd home.

A short while before I watched settlers drive through a Bedouin community of over 30 years, as if they weren’t there.

תתארו לעצמכם/ן שזה קורה ב23:30 או חצות, כפי שקורה לילה לילה, בדרך למאחז חדש של המאחז "מלאכי השלום" לאחר שהצבא חסם את הדרך שפרצו. עד עכשיו, הצבא והמשטרה לא רוצה להגן על הבדואיםJust imagine this happening at 11:30 PM or midnight, as happens almost every night. See previous clips of settlers travelling back and forth from.new outpost, after army blocked the road the forged. Up until now the army and police have done nothing to protect the Bedouin.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 1 במאי 2020

Now, imagine vehicles noisily rushing by a few meters from your tent at 11:30 at night, with scared children, and elderly trying to sleep. Actually, you don’t need to imagine too much:

עכשיו המשטרה אמרה ש"חוקי" שמתנחלי מאחז מלאכי השלום עוברים דרך הבתים של הבדואים באמצע הלילה בדרך למאחז חדש מאז שה באנחסם למתנחלים דרך אחרת. Police say its legal that settlers from the unauthorized Malakhei HaShalom outpostbdrive through Bedoiin village all hours to new outpost, ever since the army blocked the road the settlers built to get to another outpost they set up.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 29 באפריל 2020

And, if you happen to speak Arabic, the residents will tell you how it feels:

סרטוני לייב שלי באור יום. אבל כםינשניתן לראות בסרטונים קודמים, זה גם עד השעות הקטנות דל הלילה שמתנחלים עוברים דרך הבתים של אין רשאש. אחד מסביר את המרגשThese live clips show the settlers co.ing through the Eyn Rashash encampment during the day. But they do so until the middle of the night as you can see from.previous clips. One resident explains how it feels especially for yhe children.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 1 במאי 2020

When I sent these pictures,  as I do day after day, the Binyamin situation room ran out of the usual excuses.  They wanted GPS coordinates, so I sent them. (They didn’t really need them, and it would be really scary if the army didn’t know precisely where this area is.). Finally, after corresponding and speaking with me day after day, they asked,  “What is actually the story there?”

I responded

“It is the story that I have been reporting to you every day.

  1. On April 20th your Civil Administration blocked the way that the settlers of the “Malakhei HaShalom” outpost forged through your live fire zone some three months ago. You finally stopped them. (Because of our pressure. A.A.) They resumed a month ago.
  2. In the meantime, they set up a new outpost They keep cattle there.
  3. A short while before you blocked the road, you partially evacuated the outpost. (Because of our pressure. A.A.) There is no longer a generator there or tents to dwell on, but there are the bales of hay and water. It isn’t clear whether the settlers are still sleeping there.
  4. Since you blocked the road, the settlers drive through the Eyn Rashash Bedouin encampment all day, and into the wee hours of the morning See the video clips I have sent you in recent days.
  5. This is harassment. Where I live, it is forbidden to make noise after 11:00 pm.  I must assume that, if you have told me when I have asked for your help in the past that it is too dangerous for you to be in this area after dark (unless you have an exercise)  that is one more reason that civilians shouldn’t be doing so.
  6. In addition, the settlers are doing everything not to allow the Bedouin to their grazing lands of over 30 years, until the settlers arrived. The Bedouin tell us that the army allowed them to graze, and notified them if they needed to stay out because there was actually going to be one of the rare military exercises.
  7. We have also been attacked when attempting to prevent the settlers from driving through the Bedouin flocks with their horses and all-terrain vehicles in order to chase them out of the pastures. They sprayed one of our volunteers with pepper spray.
  8. In light of all of this, in my humble opinion it is your obligation to provide some minimal level of protection. The Bedouin are also created in God’s Image.

Any further questions?”

The army: “OK. Thank you.”

Me: “Are you going to do anything?”

I raced home, arriving just before Shabbat.  While I would never encourage my children not to keep the Sabbath, as I drove I hoped that I could teach them that, while our Torah portion teaches us that both mitzvot beyn adam l’makom  (ritual commandments between us and God) and mitzvot beyn adam l’kavero (commandments how to treat fellow human beings) are essential to holiness, the interpersonal commandments are also about our relationship to God, because every human being is created in God’s Image.

I received some backing because this Shabbat we read the third chapter of Pirkei Avot. Verse 13 reads that Rabbi Khanina Ben Dosa taught, “Anybody who is liked by his/her fellow human beings is liked by God; anyone who is not liked by his fellow human beings is not liked by God.”   The fact is that there are times when we are not liked by our fellow human beings for doing what is rights, certainly not by the wrongdoers we challenge. However, we can learn from Pirkei Avot that we do not honor God when we abuse human beings. I do tell my children that I certainly hope they will observe both the ritual and interpersonal commandments. However, if forced to choose, I would choose honoring God’s Image in fellow human beings.  While it is false to say that the prophets opposed the sacrificial cult, they made it clear that God is outraged by those who observe the Sabbath and festivals, and all of the required sacrifices, while acting unjustly towards others.

While we are taught that we must make every effort to express rebuke in ways that will be effective, and not increase enmity, our Torah portion also makes it clear that must reprove others when necessary. (Leviticus 19:17).  I have not yet been effective regarding the settlers travelling through Eyn Rashash, and the small success regarding the settler flock in planted fields was not a guarantee of what the security forces will do tomorrow, and certainly not a permanent solution.  However, holiness is a process — a goal that must be worked for.  Past successes have taken time. Every soldier or police officer that thinks about what I try to tell him/her, and perhaps actually makes a decision to do the right thing, is also a step towards holiness.

May we wake up soon, and decide that we want to truly be a holy people, as God intended.


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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