Arik Ascherman

Nitzavim: Standing Before God, or Standing in the Way

Parashat Nitzavim contains many of the key messages we need to meditate on, with the High Holy Days upon us.  These simple truths are easily translatable for those who do not believe in God, or do not believe in a judging God:

  1. We are all standing before God. None of us, whether we be respected leaders or simple laborers, “You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God.” (Deuteronomy 29:9)
  2. None of us are exempt from God’s Judgment, or from the obligations of our Covenant with God. “One must not think, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart.”  (29:18)
  3. There are consequences to our actions. They lead to blessings and curses in our lives, both individually and collectively.
  4. We can and must change. We must hear God’s Still Small Voice, answer, turn and return to our truest and highest selves. God waits and desires to bless us., “then Adonai your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love.”  (30:3)
  5. Often when somebody presents us with a path we don’t wish to follow or an idea we disagree with, we say “it’s complicated.” Neither understanding what God demands of us nor doing it, are too complicated or beyond our ability, “Surely this commandment which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’  No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (31:11-14)

So often we are told that economics are rocket science. We do not have the ability to fulfill our obligations towards those who need to be taken care of, or who need help to help themselves. Yes, none of are exempt from simple rules such as, one goes into debt if one spends more than one brings in.  Yes, we live with constraints.  We can’t survive without an army, as much as we might like to. Nevertheless, within those constraints, we make choices about what to fund, and what not to fund.  Those choices have consequences. This week Calcalist published an article (Hebrew) exposing the fact that, despite the Government decision in December 2018 that up to 7% of the apartments built with Government funding through the “Makhir LaMishtaken” reduced price housing program would be public housing, the Finance Ministry and Israel Lands Authority have been rejecting requests from the Housing Ministry to carry this out.  In reality, only 1% of what is being built is public housing.  This translates into families who can’t afford to put a roof over their head.  There are some 3,700 veteran households who are eligible for public housing, but are waiting.  Another 30,000 households of new immigrants, mostly elderly, are also waiting. Add to this the many in need who are excluded because of eligibility criteria having nothing to do with need.  Our choice not to build public housing has the consequence that we create a less just society that does not ensure that everybody can afford to put a roof over their head.  This, in turn, leads to social ills that come back to bite us.

One final thought.  In this week’s Torah portion, ” nitzavim” means that we “stand” before God.  Earlier in the Torah we read of the Angel of Adonai who stands in the way of Bilaam, i.e. blocks the way. (Numbers 22:22-29).

Just yesterday, a settler from the illegal even according to Israel “Malakhei HaShalom” outpost, and one of the youth he takes in, came to harass. In an infantile game repeated day after day, they stand inches from shepherds and shove cameras in their faces. When the settler Elkhanan lit a cigarette, I said to the youth that I hoped that Elkhanan hadn’t taught him to smoke, in addition to all of the other bad traits Elkhanan had taught him. Elhanan lit up another cigarette, and handed it to the youth, who resumed shoving his camera in the face of a shepherd, and now was smoking in his face as well.   I eventually stood in between the youth and the shepherd.  When the shepherd then walked away, Elkhanan literally tried to stand in my way to prevent me from going with the shepherd.

English After Hebrew-Blowing smoke in shepherd's face, and other infantile games.משחק האינפטילי הופך להיות יותר מגעים ופוגעני כאן. כאשר המתחלאלחנן מהמאחז הבלתי חוקי אפילו עלפי ישראל, "מלאכי השלום" מתחיל לעשן,אמרתי לנער שאני מקווה שעם כל התחונות הרעות שאלחנן מלמד אותו, שלפחות הוא לא מלמד אותו לעשן. אלחנן נותן לו סיגריה, והנער מתחיל לעשן בפנים של רועי צאן בדואי. לאחר מכן, נסיונות לחסום את המצלמה שלי, ואואז גם אותי-לא מצליח. איני יודע האם אפילו מצלמים באמת. אם כן, מקווה שמצלמים את הצד הטוב שלי. אולי זו הדרך להוציא את התסכול שהצבא כבר מבינים שיש להם/ן דברים יותר חשובים, והמתנחלים לא מצליחים לגרור את הצבא לבוא ולגרש,אלא אם כן יש חיכוך של ממש-דבר שאנחנו והבדואים לא מספקים.The infantile games of the settlers from the illegal even according to Israel "Malakhei HaShalom" outpost get nastier and more invasive here, After the Elkhanan lights a cigarette, I say to the young man that hope that Elkhanan isn't, in addition to all the other bad habits Elkhanan teaches him, that he hasn't induced him to smoke. Elkhanan lights up another cigarette and gives it to the young man, who proceeds to smoke it in the face of the Bedouin shepherd. I eventually try to stand in between them. Elkhanan begins trying to block my camera, and then block me from moving. Both attempts are unsuccessful. I don't know if they are even actually filming, but hope they are filming my good side. Perhaps this is their way of getting out their frustration that the army has figured out that it has more important tasks than coming to chase after sheep and goats when Elkhanan calls. They don't show up if there isn't real conflict, something that we and the Bedouin don't provide.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 25 בספטמבר 2019

Yes, “Malakei HaShalom” mean “angels of peace,” as we sing around our Shabbat table on Friday night.  Settlers and their supporters no doubt see themselves as angels, and joyfully compare me and/or Palestinian shepherds to Bilaam.  However, take a look at the clip, and judge for yourself. The shepherds, with us there to protect them, were peacefully grazing their flocks in a vast area with room for all, far from the outpost, and with nobody in sight.  The harassers appear out of nowhere in order to cause trouble. Their sole motivation is to drive the shepherds out of their grazing area, and claim it all.

I spoke to the shepherd about the meaning of the High Holy Days, and the Yom Kippur fast, as Elkhanan listened.  I explained to him that our Talmudic sages taught that God cannot forgive us for the sins we commit against other human beings until we make amends with our fellow human beings.

We can choose to stand before God, or stand in the way of our fellow human beings in need of housing or pasture.

As our portion concludes, God desires that we “Choose life.”(30:19) – for all.

Shabbat Shalom.

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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