Jerusalem: The Possibility of Shalom and Shleimut (Peace and Wholeness). Phote: Carole-Ann Gordon
26 weeks = 6 months = ½ year. That is how long hundreds of thousands Israelis have been rallying and protesting against Netanyahu’s judicial proposed judicial reforms each and every week. These reforms threaten to harm Israel’s democracy, dramatically expand West Bank settlements, and institute racist policies and religious laws that are anathema to our pluralistic, Reform ethos, values and sensibilities.
Israelis are showing incredible resilience and strength, while they also exhibit fear and despair as the very fabric of their society is continually threatened from within. At the same time, there is great hope that Israel holds for the promise of a “spiritual redemption” – the hope that Israel can be a place of justice, peace and harmony for all. That is the great beauty, the paradox, the challenge of being a Zionist. Living with both hope and despair.
This past week was especially difficult as the violence in the West Bank escalated to new heights. The IDF is now actively focusing its efforts on eradicating terrorist cells in Jenin and the surrounding area. As it appears that the power of the Palestinian Authority is severely weakened, grassroots militant groups are springing up that do not take their authority from Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Fatah. Where will this all lead?
This week, we saw that Israel is also at risk from internal threats. The ruling coalition is re-starting its plans for its proposed judicial overhaul. Israelis reacted to this by speaking out and standing up for their rights: they dramatically increased the size and intensity of the protests and rallies which support a Jewish and democratic state, while speaking out against authoritarianism, injustice and the free-rein of racist, misogynistic and violent extremists in the government coalition.
Many countries, including the United States of America, are very concerned about the actions of the government. There are many issues that are causing great concern: the Israel government’s approval of over 5,700 new settlement units in the West Bank; the lack of action taken by the Palestinian Authority to curb terrorist cells. The fact that armed settlers recently took matters into their own hands – as a form of vigilantism, a form of zeolotry – and ransacked Palestinian villages, indiscriminately destroying property and injuring innocent Palestinians. This is not only illegal against Jewish values, it negates the efforts of the IDF to combat terrorism, and it damages Israel’s reputation. The cycle of violence must end.
On the surface, it appears as if the events of this week will lead to further despair, rather than to bolstering hope. However, there is always hope – even during times of extremism and great difficulty, as we learn from this weeks Torah portion, Pinchas.
Pinchas was a zealous priest who takes matters into his own hands and kills a Midianite woman and her Israelite lover at the entrance to the Mishkan – the portable sanctuary. In our portion, God rewards him for his act of zealotry. Pinchas is given the covenant of Peace and eternal Priesthood for his descendants.
The zealot is the one who acts fearlessly, without hesitation, without stopping to ask permission. Often, the zealot acts without thinking, by translating the yearnings and guidance of emotions felt inside the heart into bold, decisive action.
There are times each of us needs to be more zealous, when situations call for this bold, decisive action. Those are the times when if we do NOT act with zeal, with passion and boldness, lives will be endangered, harmed or even put at risk.
In the Torah portion, we are told that with his bold, deliberate and powerful actions, Pinchas ended a plague that was threatening the entire Israelite community.
Think of those who defied the Nazis in the Holocaust to save the lives of others, even when threatened with risk to their own life. Those were acts of zealousness – when defined by this standard of “bold, decisive action.”
However, the blessing which God bestowed upon Pinchas was couched with warning. Pinchas did not only receive the blessing of the Priesthood, Pinchas received the blessing of Shalom, or Wholeness, as well.
God understood full well that our inner yearnings, passions and emotions might not simply lead us to do good, but might begin to rule over us, and overcome us. We might begin to act zealous without compassion, to act as vigilantes who care only about the rules and outcome rather than about the people with whom we live. Our acts of zealousness and passion must be tempered by shalom – peace, and wholeness. We must look to be compassionate and always be seekers of peace. The Torah also admonishes: “Be like the disciples of Aaron – seeking peace and pursuing it.”
Our spiritual challenge as Jews is to know how to balance righteous acts of boldness and zeal which will make this world a better place with the values of compassion, mercy, tolerance and understanding.
We need to know when it is important to be bold and defiant and when it is critical to temper that with “shalom” – peace and dialogue.
It is the hope that our inner guidance and yearnings lead us to bold and decisive action to bring greater shlemut – wholeness – for all. When that occurs, we will find that the blessing God promised Pinchas will be sustained and fulfilled for us and all humanity– the blessing of God’s Divine Covenant of Peace, Shalom. We pray that that God’s Divine Covenant of Peace spreads its wings over all the inhabitants of the land of Israel speedily bringing all who dwell there shalom, peace, and shleimut, wholeness.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom