This year I started reading a new Torah. I thought I had a pretty good grip of the basics of the five books of the Torah, but as we started the new cycle of Torah reading for the Jewish calendar year of 5784, I was struck by how much I had missed. It happens to be that the cycle of Torah readings began again the week of the October 7th massacre in Israel and the beginning of the war of Iron Swords to exterminate Hamas. In fact, the massacre took place on Simchat Torah, the day of the completion of the Torah cycle.
In the wake of those experiences, each parsha appears completely new to me. I see in each section lessons and reflections on what we are experiencing at this very moment.
In Bereishis we contemplated the fact that every aspect of creation warranted the proclamation “And God saw it was good,” except the human being. All inorganic, flora or fauna in this world is automatically proclaimed ‘good’ because it naturally follows the intended design of its Creator. Only the human being has the capacity to choose to listen to its Creator or to disobey and wreak havoc. The ‘good’ of the human being can only be measured at the end, once it becomes clear what that human being did with their lives. Did the human use their time torture, rape, mutilate and burn others or did they love, support, embrace, sanctify and care for others. That choice the Creator left to the human being.
In Noach we noticed the verse teach us “ותמלא בארץ חמס” that the world was full of ‘Hamas.’ The Aramaic translation renders this word to mean חטופין – kidnappers and looters. Precisely what happened on October 7th. Eyewitnesses accounts describe that after the terrorists entered to kill and destroy, many other Gazans ran in to loot and rape. It was such anarchy which precipitated flood in the parsha. Ironically, the massacre of October 7th was called by Hamas the Al Aqsa Flood.
In Lech Lecha we hear of a kidnapping of the nephew of Avraham. He is taken mercilessly by the alliance of the 4 kings. There were previously arguments between the shepherds of Avraham and Lot, so much so that the 2 families had to separate. Yet, when Lot was in trouble, Avraham jumped right in to save him. The verse describes Avraham’s reaction upon hearing about the hostage situation. וישמע אברם כי נשבע אחיו – He heard that his brother was captured. Lot was not his brother. He was Avraham’s nephew. Yet when trouble befalls someone, they immediately become like a brother, despite all past quarrels. The application to today is obvious.
In Vayeira we learned about Avraham praying for the sake of the people of the valley who were doomed for destruction. He could not accept they all deserved to die and used his own credit to argue with the Almighty. And yet, those same people, defended by Avraham, wished to harm his nephew and his family just for harboring guests. How many times have the Jews reached out to help other minorities and communities at their times of trouble. And yet when Israel is attacked, the silence is deafening.
In Chayei Sarah, we learned about Avraham’s burial of Sarah. Even though he had been promised the land of Israel multiple times, he still did not have a hole in which to bury his own wife. Despite not being able to see the fruition of the promise made by God to him, he never complained and realized that the price to pay was high.
In Toldos, we hear about Yitzchak who peacefully comes to live in Gerar, near the Gaza area today. He re-digs the wells of his father but upon his success, he is attacked by the locals. After a number of incidents, Avimelech, the king of the local Philistines, begs Yitzchak to leave the area because he had become too strong. Yitzchak graciously accepts and moves East but when he digs new wells, those too are attacked by the Philistines. It sounds just like the area the Jews settled in in Gaza called Gush Katif. They built huge communities and a large successful agricultural industry. And yet, after much pain and introspection, Israel decided to give that area to the Arabs so they could try governing themselves. That experiment lasted from 2005 till present and it did not resolve anything. The Arabs proved unable to govern themselves or invest in their own economy and instead dedicated all their energy, humanitarian aid and education to attacking Israel which had retreated from her territories.
In Vayeitzei we hear about the prototype of the diaspora Jew. He flees to a new society, in search of refuge and has a very hard time adjusting to the new cultural climate. He is cheated, overworked and taken advantage of. And yet, despite all the travails of this new immigrant, he succeeds wildly in the new culture. But just as his success becomes public, the locals accuse him of stealing their wealth and wish to persecute him claiming all he has really belongs to them. The illusions of being one big happy family are rudely shattered and he is on the run again searching for refuge. This is a telling story for the many millions of Jews living in diaspora communities who woke up in the last six weeks to find that their neighbors, employers, employees and fellow students were not so tolerant as they had feigned in the past.
Each week a new story unfolds reflecting the new experiences we have had. This is true of the Torah for all ages and all experiences. As our collective and individual experiences change, we gain deeper understanding into the messages and the narratives of the Torah.