Searching for Comfort on Shabbat Nachamu

It is customary that throughout the summer at Congregation Beth El we have summer darshanim, different congregants who teach, share, and offer words of Torah about the Torah portion. Last Shabbat, on Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat immediately following Tisha B’Av, we were privileged to have one of our congregants, David Suskauer, share his thoughts about Shabbat Nachamu and how it relates to what is currently going on in Israel. His words of Torah are below. We invite all who are interested in sharing their words of Torah with the community. If you are interested in giving a D’var Torah over the summer, please contact me directly. 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky


D’var Torah for Shabbat Nachamu

By David Suskauer

David Suskauer

David Suskauer

Since I returned from the World ORT Solidarity Mission to Israel, I have been asked what I learned while I was in Israel.  We were driving in the south around 10:30 AM Israel time, when the siren sounded and we had to get out of our van and into a bomb shelter.  Soon after World ORT posted on Facebook that we were evading missiles before I had the chance to tell anyone what took place.  This meant that World ORT told Mara what happened and not me.  Not good.  Lesson learned.  Don’t fear Hamas, fear the Wifey.

I want to put into context the missile threat that Israel has faced since the fighting began.  Israel is comparable in size to New Jersey.  Imagine that for the last number of years, Philadelphia had been launching rockets at Cherry Hill and Trenton.  Occasionally they could reach Atlantic City.  Now suddenly the missiles are targeted at Newark, New York City and on a good day Paramus.  The danger is real.

The news has been so difficult to read and watch.  At security briefings in Israel, we learned that Hamas’ weakness is its greatest strength.  Hamas knows that it cannot defeat Israel militarily.  They understand that the world cannot stand to watch footage of Israeli responses to their rockets and the Palestinian casualties and physical destruction that follow.  They also know that they can inflict suffering on Israeli society through imprecise rockets aimed at civilian targets.  I heard numerous times that the worst night of Hamas attacks was when they announced that rockets would be launched, Mozei Shabbat at 9:00 PM.  The resulting anticipation and fear meant that although the rockets were intercepted, they did achieve partial success.

While Israelis have been unusually supportive of the government and the war, they are uncertain as to whether Israel has won or is winning.  What we should not question is Israel’s right to self-defense.  What we can question are Israel’s methods.  Herein lies the trap.  Hamas wanted to lure Israel into a ground war; it helps to accomplish their goals.  When the fighting stops, Israel is going to be faced with difficult questions.

  1. After the 3 Israeli teens were kidnapped, when did Israel know their fate?
  2. Did Israel take actions that led to the Hamas escalation?
  3. Israeli intelligence is going to have to answer for not realizing the extent and the capability of the Hamas tunnels.

Also bear this in mind- Israel has said that it has uncovered a horrific plot regarding the tunnels.  There was a plan for a Rosh Hashanah massacre- terrorists would come through the tunnels and head straight for the southern communities.  While we must hold Israel accountable for its actions, we must acknowledge the threat and the danger posed by the enemy.  With all of the available evidence of what Hamas has done both to Israel and its own people, why is the world so quick to judge?  Only part of this can be explained by the difference in their military capabilities.  It is good that we question Israel, but we must remember that Israel has a responsibility to its citizens.

After a week or two of fighting, I found that I could no longer read what some colleagues and friends were writing, comparing Israel and Hamas.  Perhaps in the beginning it was necessary to tell the world of how Hamas put its own citizens at risk, uses them as human shields and has a different moral compass.  We agree.  We can also agree about our support for the IDF and commend its conduct during the fighting.  I am an IDF veteran and am for the most part proud of how Israel has conducted itself.  But I get nervous when I read about our “holy soldiers” because in Jewish history, ‘holy soldiers’ brings to mind death and destruction as the Crusaders marched across Europe.  We will read some of this during the Martyrology on Yom Kippur.  We must not mix Israel’s right to defend itself with a holy war.  Our tradition teaches us differently.

Earlier in the week I had the idea that I should take a look at this week’s Haftorah.  The link seemed obvious- it is the first Haftorah of Consolation after Tisha B’Av and I was hoping that the 72 hour truce would extend into Shabbat.  Shabbat would provide an ideal consolation- a time of rest and reflection with hopefully more quiet to follow.  We all know how that worked out.  More than 70 rockets were fired at Israel yesterday and they were followed by Israeli reprisals.

My thought process took me to a whole new and different place.  The Haftorah begins with, “Nachmu, nachmu ami…” which Etz Haim translates as, “Comfort, oh Comfort My People.”  We are told that Jerusalem and her people have suffered their punishment and are ready to be redeemed.  Isaiah goes on to write that people come and go, but G-d remains constant.  Chapter 40, line 9 states, “Ascend a lofty mountain O herald of joy to Zion; Raise your voice with power, O herald of joy to Jerusalem- Raise it have no fear.”  This week I find that line to be particularly moving.  Regardless of your position on what has taken place between Israel and Hamas, it has been hard to miss not just the criticism of Israel, but the anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. I think that we must be careful not to confuse legitimate criticism with anti-Semitism.  “Raise your voice with power” resonates with me not as power as force, but the power that comes from having a state, the return to Zion and the ability that Israel has to defend itself.  Israel is the regional military superpower but also the economic and democratic power of the region.

I find Chapter 40, Verse 18 very powerful:

“To whom, then can you liken G-d,

What form compare to Him?

The idol?  A woodworker shaped it,

And a smith overlaid it with gold,

Forging links of silver. 

As a gift, he chooses the mulberry-

A wood that does not rot-

Thou seeks a skillful woodworker to make a firm idol,

That will not topple”

My problem is that it is easy to quote Isaiah, and while I believe in G-d’s enduring promise of our homeland, my identification with Zionism demands that it was not enough to wait for our return, we needed to make it happen.  I believe that Zionism was necessary because a new Jew had to be made, one capable of defending him or herself who could take destiny into their own hands.  (As an aside, I was tempted to quote from Bialik’s City of Slaughter, comparing Jews of 1903 with today, but decided it was too heavy handed.) We demand more of Israel than we do of other countries.  Israel is held to a higher standard people complain.  But I think that this can be a good thing.  It also acknowledges our biblical connection to the land.  We must remember our origins, how and why we were sent into Exile and the modern sacrifices required to build the state of Israel.  My family was sent to exile from Spain in 1492 and kept the key to the family home in Cordoba, originally hoping to return, but also serving as a reminder.  The key presumably is still in the house in Poland, a house that we know still exists, now in Ukraine, where generations lived until those who were unable to get out met their fate at the hands of the Nazis.  We speak of lessons learned and Jewish morality that must be applied to each other and our neighbors.  Only then can we truly fulfill the promise laid out in this week’s Haftorah.  When the fighting ends, there are going to be new opportunities for a negotiated comprehensive settlement.  We have chosen to return to our homeland and fulfill G-d’s promise.  Now we must face the difficult choices that will enable us to live with our neighbors in peace. 

Shabbat Shalom

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