Shouting fire, Harmonizing relief

Responses to raging fires throughout Israel this week have been diverse and telling. Whether they were ignited accidentally or intentionally the fires became a kind of Rorschach test for what observers wanted to see in them. 

Those looking for infernal hatred found it. Clips capturing rejoicing over Israel ablaze were available. Those on the watch for empathic generosity also found it. Israel received rapid assistance from neighbors including Russia, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.  What we see has much to do with what we look for. But we can discover something fresh when we invite a more curious lens?

In this week’s portion of Torah Abraham purchases the Hebron burial site for Sarah.  He does so fairly and generously, paying the land’s owner 400 shekels of silver.  It has been pointed out that this is eight times the 50 shekels which King David will pay for the Temple Mount.  The disparity between these costs is noteworthy.  Yet when we move beyond comparing values to recognizing what they may signal we discover something profound.

Abraham has heard the number 400 once before.  It has been foretold that his descendants will be strangers-turned-slaves in a land not their own for 400 years.  Perhaps every shekel is intended to correspond to each year in Pharaoh’s Egypt.  The same might be true of King David’s 50 shekel purchase atop Jerusalem.  It corresponds to the roughly 50 years his descendants will be exiled in Babylonia in the 6th century BCE.  At face value, pricing determines something’s worth.  On an entirely different level, however, it can signal something’s meaning. 

Once the dangers of this week’s fiery destruction pass, speedily we pray, meaningful takeaways may be found amidst the remains.  Of course charred ashes remind us that scorched earth hatred still seethes.  Yet embers also twinkle with tender appreciation for aid to the Jewish State that mirrors IsraAid’s emergency responses to others in need.  And glimmers of shared interests may yet be fanned to kindle kindred kindness, portending a future that is commodious enough for a third way – a way not determined by incurable hostility or by naive hopefulness but by no-nonsense self-interest.

Soon we will enter the Hebrew month of Kislev.  A month from now, when we will gather around the glow of Hanukkah lights, may the echo-chambers of hatred and hope be joined by the harmony of helpfulness.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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