The power of the high holiday Israel sermon

Fellow rabbis, we have an enormous responsibility these High Holidays to speak in defense of the State of Israel.  As we learn from the Shma Koleinu, it is wrong to abandon someone in their hour of need, when they have been weakened.  This applies to Israel as well.  One might think that what we say doesn’t matter, but it does.  It matters no less than Prime Minister Netanyahu’s next speech or the next vote in the Knesset, CNN’s coverage of unfolding events in the Middle East or the next set of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  Words matter.  They affect the way people think, how they vote, and whom they support.  Words and ideas spread from person to person and from group to group.  Ultimately, words affect public policy and international diplomacy.

It is because words matter that our tradition has developed such an intricate set of laws about Lashon HaRa, evil speech.  Unfortunately, the international media is guilty of the sin of motzi shem ra, slander and defamation.  They have falsely accused our homeland of apartheid, racism, war crimes, and theft of another people’s land, just to name a few.

When Jews come to hear us speak these High Holidays, they are seeking refuge from a world that has become increasingly hostile towards Jews and the Jewish homeland.  They are seeking to be inspired as Jews, to have their backs straightened and their heads lifted so that we Jews can walk upright with our heads held high. Through my High Holiday sermons, I fully intend to generate a pride in Jewish identity that is so needed in our time.  I hope and pray that you will all join me in this sacred task.

Unfortunately, some of us have fallen victim to the brain washing of an international media which is a tool being used to bring about the weakening and destruction of the State of Israel.  Many rabbis have also recently heard speeches from “pro-Israel” thinkers, at rabbinic seminars and missions to Israel, encouraging a more detached philosophical approach to Israel, similar to the Wissenschaft studies that some of us had in rabbinical school.  As a result, I have heard from some of our colleagues that they plan on giving less than their full-fledged support for Israel, and this worries me greatly.

It worries me both because it endangers Jewish physical survival and because it is based on falsehoods.  As rabbis, we have an obligation to teach Judaism regardless of what any political party, politician, or social stream says.  So, can anyone name a place in the Torah where rightful ownership of the Land of Israel is given to anyone other than the Jews?  How about the Talmud?  How about anywhere in all of Jewish tradition?  My fellow rabbis, speaking on behalf of Palestinian rights over the land quite simply contradicts our entire tradition and is a betrayal of everything it means to be a Jew and a rabbi.  Additionally, in the battle for the land which is taking place both on the battlefield and in the public opinion arena, the Palestinians and their allies are presenting their position quite well.  Why should a Jew and a rabbi, whose political interests rest on the opposing side, assist in their efforts rather than the efforts of his/her own people?

We are all aware of the Mishnah from Bava Metzi’a,”Shnayim sheochazim betalit”.  Two hold on to a garment.  One says, “it is all mine” and the other says, “it is all mine”.  It is divided in half.  However, if one says, “all of it is mine” and the other one says, “half of it is mine.”  Three quarters go to the one claiming full ownership and only one quarter is given to the one claiming half ownership.  Those rabbis who speak on behalf of the Palestinians are in fact saying, “half of it is mine.”  Since the Palestinians have no problem saying, “all of it is mine” and there is no “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace” movement among the Palestinians, we Jews must say “all of it is mine” if we are to receive even half.

Also, Jews cannot afford to take a detached position when it comes to Israel.  If there is anything that recent events have taught us, it is that anti-Semitism is alive and well and that Israel is our one and only refuge.  This is not a theological exercise like we did in rabbinical school.  This is a matter of Jewish physical survival.  We need, and will always need, a strong and secure State of Israel.  When the next wave of Nazis or Inquisitors come knocking on Jewish doors, our children and grandchildren will judge us with regard to our efforts, when we were in positions of leadership, to strengthen their safe haven.  As leaders, by our words and our actions, we can lead our people to greater safety and security.

On the High Holidays, we emphasize truth.  We try to be truthful about ourselves and our deeds over the past year.  Well, despite the Orwellian intrusion into our critical thinking abilities by the media, allegations made against Israel of apartheid, racism, war crimes, and theft of another people’s land are simply not true.  Arabs are full and equal citizens of the State of Israel.  Arabic is even an official language on par with Hebrew.  Arabs serve in the Israeli parliament and Israeli army, play on Israeli sports teams, and work in every industry in the State of Israel.  In fact, many of them are so patriotic towards Israel that they celebrate Israeli Independence Day to the distaste of some of their brethren in other parts of the Arab world.

Israel is the most ethical military in human history.  In the recent conflict, Israel sent its soldiers into Gaza on foot, risking their lives in order to be able to distinguish the civilians from the Hamas terrorists.  Any other country experiencing the barrage of missiles that Israel was dealing with would have simply leveled Gaza.  It also publicized the nature and location of every attack, giving away sensitive strategic information and the element of surprise, in order to affect a civilian evacuation of the areas being targeted.

Israel has been willing to share with the Palestinian Arabs since 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish State and an Arab State.  The Palestinian Arabs are the ones who have continuously and constantly been unwilling to share.  To put it simply, if the Palestinians were to sign a document which stated an end to all hostilities, an end to all further claims, a recognition of the Jewish State and the right of the Jewish people to a state in this land no less than that of the Palestinians, and the establishment of a two state solution with secure and recognized boundaries, the conflict would end today.  Israel would not hesitate even one second from signing such a document.  The “settlements” do not hinder peace; they bring it closer.  In the real-politic game of “tit for tat”, they send a message that Israel’s response to terrorism, aggression, and refusal to sign peace is not withdrawal.  It is expansion.  Therefore, if the Palestinians are really interested in a two-state solution, they should cease from violent activity and sign peace as soon as possible.  The longer they wait, the more land they may be forfeiting.  At the same time, Israel has proven, through its actions in Sinai and Gaza, that when peace is the prize, Israel will remove settlements.

As we are approaching Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, please consider speaking about Israel.  Please consider speaking in its defense and portraying it as the beautiful, free, peace-loving country that it is.   Speak about it not as a citizen of the world or as a peace-lover or as an intellectual.  Rather than trust the media, think critically for yourself and read up on the situation not just in English, but in Hebrew and in Arabic as well.  These sources tell a very different story and include very pertinent information that is purposely left out of most other media channels.  Speak about Israel as a Jew and as a leader of the Jewish people.  Your words will have repercussions not only on your own community but on Israel, international affairs, and the entire Jewish people for generations to come.  I implore you with the famous words from Pirkei Avot, “Chachamim hizaharu bedivreichem”.  Oh Sages of the Jewish people, be careful with the words that you utter, for the future of the State of Israel rests in our hands.  Shanah Tovah.

The article above reflects the views of the author.

About the Author
Rabbi Royi Shaffin has served as a rabbi, Jewish educator, professor, writer, and public speaker for over 15 years. His writings span the full spectrum of Jewish religious and political topics. He considers himself a member of both the faith community and the community of free-thinkers. As such, he bridges the gap between religion and reason, belief and inquiry. His commentary on Israel and the Jewish world uses unique insight, satire, comedy, passion, and life experience to shed light on Israeli and Jewish life in the modern world and creating visions and possibilities for a better future.