Story of Liberation: Sweetening the bitter

Earlier this week something historic took place.  The person selected to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at the state funeral of Gen. Jack Jacob – one of India’s most heroic military leaders of all time – was Jack’s good friend Ali Ispahani. Ali happens to be a Muslim. Back in 1971, Jack’s legendary battlefield leadership saved Bangladesh which is one of the largest Muslim nations on earth.  Indeed, when Jacob secured the unconditional surrender of Pakistan, notes Britain’s Jewish Chronicle this week, “he succeeded in halting the the single-largest massacre of Muslims since the birth of Islam.”

Growing up in the Calcutta Jewish community, later serving as Governor of two large India Provinces, Gen. Jacob never experienced any antisemitism.  Among Indians, he often said, it does not exist.  More recently he was instrumental in strengthening ties between Israel and India. 

As hostility toward the Jewish People and our Nation State metastasizes in our times, this remarkable story of honor and respect needs to be told. 

This week’s Torah portion has reveals a worrisome rapport with warfare.  “God led them not through the land of the Philistines, although nearer,” (Ex. 13:17) lest the people’s resolve weaken when challenged by war.  Yet our portion still includes two wars – first the defeat of Egypt within the Red Sea, then the attack of Amalek.  Although both are clearly defensive in nature, with enemies attacking from the rear, the birth of a new nation with the Exodus will not occur without battlefield experiences.  Freedom from slavery will not come as simply as freedom for Sinai.  The road will be rocky and uncertain.

Today’s path forward remains rocky and uncertain.  Yet there is a message in the very first miracle that follows the splitting of the Red Sea.  With the Song at the Sea barely behind them, the Children of Israel complain about bitter waters which God remedies by making them sweet (Ex.15:23-25).  Bitter times can be made bearable with quiet sweetness. 

Once upon a time, we were saved by God’s signs and wonders.  Now we are fortified by courageous acts of defiance and devotion.  May the memory of Jack Jacob continue to bless and warm our faith in the possible.

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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