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Arik Ascherman

It wasn’t read in shul, but I needed to read it in a Bedouin Encampment

Friday afternoon, but I am not writing so much about this week’s Torah portion or haftarah, but rather the haftarah that wasn’t last Shabbat.   It was a sign from heaven when my 2014 dvar Torah on the Haftarah for last Shabbat-Parashat Pinkhas, appeared yesterday in my Facebook memories.. The haftarah wasn’t read in synagogue this and many years because we read the first of the three haftarot of warning before Tisha B’Av on Pinkhas when “Matot”and “Masei”  are read together on one Shabbat. And then suddenly and unexplainedly, Google sent me the duet of Peter Yarrow and his daughter Bethany singing one of the songs I find most meaningful, more or less on the same topic, “Sweet Survivor.”

I read the haftarah that wasn’t read in synagogue in the Al Baqa Bedouin encampment. I was exhausted and depressed and feeling sorry for myself because of all the evil I have seen succeeding lately. I was even forced to sleep on Shabbat in the Al Baqa Bedouin encampment because I wasn’t able to recruit others.

Despite my efforts, there has been no press about Al Baqa, the latest Bedouin to flee their homes because of settlers.  The international community has taken more notice.

The community of Al-Baqa existed for some 40 years just off route 458 leading down to Mishor Adumim, and continued to manage after Neve Erez was built. Approximately on June 20th, a new outpost was built on their access road.  The first thing the Bedouin did was try to talk to their new “neighbors” and make it clear they didn’t want trouble.  Somehow they managed, although they didn’t dare use their only access road at night, and apparently settlers or sometimes the settler flock, would also block their way during the day.

THE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION ACTUALLY REMOVED THE OUTPOST ON JUNE 29TH, BUT IT WAS REBUILT THE SAME DAY.  THIS INDICATES THAT THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT UNDERSTOOD HOW PROBLEMATIC THIS OUTPOST WAS.

Matters got worse last week. Sensing that there was going to be trouble, the family closest to the outpost moved out Thursday night. Their home went up in flames at 6:30 am the next day.  We summoned the police, but the officer who arrived only spoke with the settlers. He refused  my request that he see the home or talk to the Bedouin, and accepted the settler version that the Bedouin had burned their own home. In 28 years, I have learned not to believe anybody without corroboration, and there are no pictures of settlers burning their home, but an army tracker who arrived told me that the tracks indicated that the arsonists had come from the direction of the nearby outpost.

At the request of the families, I personally slept over for two nights, violating the usual Sabbath rules.  However, on Monday the families began to dismantle their homes.  Praying in the encampment with a clear view of the outpost only a few hundred meters away, I was overwhelmed and the wrong but for me very right haftarah jumped out at me. You can look up the haftarah in in First Kings 18:46-19: It reminded me that the change I seek doesn’t come through pyrotechnics, I shouldn’t be pitying myself when we have work to do, and to connect to the “Still small Voice.”

Elijah feels sorry for himself when his dramatic victory over the priests of Baal doesn’t lead to dramatic change in the hearts and minds of the people, and he needs to flee for his life. God finds him in a cave at Horeb, asks him “What are you doing here?” and calls Elijah out of the cave.  Elijah witnesses fire, earthquake and raging wind, God is none of them. Rather, God is in a “Still small Voice”

God is no more in the fire that torched the home of Salman in Al Baqa than in the fire in front of the Elijah’s cave.

God then more or less says, “Get back to work” and “Someone you need to mentor is waiting for you.” We shouldn’t either be spending too much time feeling sorry for ourselves or giving ourselves dispensations when we really have much work still to do on behalf of those who need us. This message and Sweet. Survivor reminded me that it isn’t just what “I” do, but what “we” do. The “we” connects between the generations. Thus the obligation “Teach your children.”

On Monday the community of Al-Baqa started dismantling their homes of 40 years because of a new outpost that was evacuated by the Civil Administration but immediately rebuilt. The Bedouin say (and I hope that it is true) that they would return if the outpost was removed.

So, like Elijah, we have much work to do.  And that work is very connected to the words of Jeremiah at the conclusion of this Shabbat’s Dvar Torah:

“Swear, as Adonai lives,

In truth, justice and righteousness

Nations shall bless themselves by you

And praise themselves by you.” (Jeremiah 4:2)

Yes, we have work to do. If today we are a curse to many, may our work as God’s partners turn us into a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

And, this is what I posted on July 13th, 2014:

On Friday, I posted Rabbi Engelman’s Torah on the portion of Pinchas , as well as some of my thoughts, but I skipped one of my favorite haftarot. Immediately after the prophet Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in a dramatic victory and kills them. Elijah discovers that despite his expectations, nothing changes. Queen Jezebel is looking to kill him, and it is not clear that the people have been convinced. He feels sorry for himself and wants to die. He reaches Mount Horev and there God reveals Godself to Elijah,

 

“God called, ‘Come out and stand on the mountain before Adonai.’ And behold, Adonai passed by. There was a great and mighty wind splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of Adonail, but Adonai was not in the wind; After the wind – an earthquake; But Adonai was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake – fire; But, Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

 

  1. Some say that Elijah is Pinkhas, or the reincarnation of Pinkhas. And here there is a very important message today for those who take the law into their own hands, but even more so for the leaders who are the law. In the words of the prophet Zechariah, not by might, and not by power, but by My Spirit says Adonai of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6). I am not a pacifist, but it is clear to me that we are in a situation in which they are shooting at our citizens and we are shooting at the citizens of Gaza after 120 years of settlement. For most of this time the dominant perception has been “The Arabs understand only power.”
  2. Like many of us who feel helpless these days, Elijah feels sorry for himself and feels helpless. God asks, “And he said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah.'” (1 Kings 19:13). Elijah repeats all his sorrows, and God gives him marching orders. There are moments when we have to put our doubts aside, pray as if everything depends on God, and act as if everything depends on us.
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.