Miracle People

We’ve come to the part of Genesis where God establishes a covenant with Abraham.  Near the end of Parashat Lech Lecha, in the opening verses of chapter 17, God summons Abraham to walk with Him and to strive to be wholehearted.  He promises him that his descendants will “exceedingly multiply,” will live in a land of their own, and that he will become the father of many generations.  To mark this moment in Abraham’s life and relationship to God, two things happen.  First, his name is changed from “Abram” to “Abraham.”  The difference between the two versions of the name is the single Hebrew letter “hey,” which symbolizes God’s essence.  The second thing is that Abraham is told that he, and all of his male descendants, must be circumcised as an outward, physical symbol of continuity of tradition and heritage between generations.  Abraham fulfills this command at an advanced age, by himself, while newborns males are entered into our Covenant with God on the eighth day of life.

Whenever we read this passage, it especially resonates with me.  I am a Mohel and am present at Brit Milah celebrations at which newborn boys are welcomed into the family of the Jewish people through the recitation of prayers and the ritual of circumcision.  When I officiate at a Bris, I most often tell the crowd that we have gathered to affirm that the story of the People of Israel continues in the life and generation of the newborn baby.  It is a story that began with Abraham, who began the Jewish journey centuries ago in a land far way and at a very different time in human history.  That our story continues in the times in which we live, that the Jewish people continues to thrive in the 21st century in a land of our own, that we continue to make major contributions to the welfare of humankind in every conceivable area of life, is nothing short of a miracle.  Those who know the history of the Jewish people know well that the is no logical reason that we continue to exist.  There are too many points in our history when we should have exited the world stage through military defeat or genocide.  That other nations and civilizations have vanished, and the Jewish people is still here, is simply astonishing.  Other than the part about his descendants being numerous, the promise made by God to Abraham has been kept.

That makes us the “miracle people.”  When a person encounters a miracle, how should he respond?  By expressing gratitude and awe, and by doing everything possible to preserve it.  That is what we the descendants of Abraham, are summoned to do.  As the People of Israel, we are called on to express gratitude that the Jewish story continues in our times and that we are part of that story.  And we are ought to do everything we can to preserve the miracle.  We must do our part to preserve our traditions, while at the same time responding with creativity and innovation to the challenges of our own day.

Every generation of our people must say to itself two things.  First, our continued existence is nothing less than miraculous.  And second, that miracle can end at any time.  Let’s not allow it to be on our watch.

Shabbat Shalom.




Strengthening Israel


Note:  Phil Darivoff, AIPAC National Board Member, will speak on “What is the Future of the U.S.-Israel Relationship?” on Friday, October 20 at 8:30 PM, following a brief Shabbat service at 8:00 PM.

120 years ago, Theodore Herzl convened the First World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.  A man filled with passion for Zionism, Herzl predicted that within 50 years, a Jewish State would emerge.  Considered unlikely if not laughable at the time, Herzl was actually prophetic, for 51 years later the State of Israel was established.

If Herzl could visit Israel today, what would he think of it?  Would he be impressed by the remarkable pace at which the land has been developed, at which Jewish culture has taken root, and at which a Jewish army has been able to defend its citizens and Jews around the world? Would Herzl be satisfied to see Israeli medical teams fly to distant lands to help other states recover from earthquakes or agricultural specialists heading off to Africa to help drought stricken countries yield more from the land? Would he be disillusioned to see that tension and discord still rages between religious and secular Jews, or that there are parts of Israeli society still awaiting social and economic justice? Would he be disheartened that enmity between Arabs and Israelis has for the most part not abated and that peace has eluded the people who live in the land he worked so hard to establish? What would he think of an Israel that has done so much, yet still has many problems to solve. If Herzl could see the Israel of 2017, I imagine that he would see all these things.

I’m concerned less about what Herzl would think of the Israel of 2017 than I am about what American Jews think. What worries me most is our growing apathy toward Israel. I I worry that the voices of condemnation and harsh criticism, voices that typically come from a place of anti-Semitism as much as from a place of anti-Zionism, are dismissed. I worry that the rage expressed against Israel on college campuses is ignored. I worry that in 2017, a year that marks 70 years of the reestablishment of Medinat Yisrael, Israel is taken for granted by American Jews despite its remarkable, miraculous successes.

We are living in one of the most remarkable eras of Jewish history in centuries.  We are privileged to live in a time when a sovereign State of Israel exists.  And not only does it exists, it thrives.  A world leader in technology, agriculture and science, Israel is a strong democracy in a region inhabited by dictatorships and oppressive regimes.  That Israel has achieved so much in its 70 years of existence is utterly miraculous.  That reality makes the fact that so many American Jews take Israel for granted so tragic.

The great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote an essay on the relationship of American Jews to Israel titled “Kol Dodi Dofek – the Voice of My Beloved Knocks.” The image comes from the Biblical Song of Songs: in the middle of the night the lover knocks on the door of his beloved’s house, and she asks herself, “should I get up out of bed to answer the door?” That, for Soloveitchik, was the call of Israel to the Diaspora Jew: the voice of our beloved calling our name, pounding on our door, banging on our soul, summoning us to action, demanding that we get out of our comfortable beds, and answer the call.

There are many ways to answer Soloveitchik’s “knock on the door.”  One powerful way is to become active in AIPACFor nearly 70 years, AIPAC has been devoted to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.  Through its work with Congress and every American administration, AIPAC advances Israel’s needs and, in so doing, strengthens America as well.  Working with the Israeli government, AIPAC advocates for Israel’s security needs.  The threats to Israel are quite apparent:  Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria.  There is no doubt that strengthening the relationship between America and Israel is key to enabling Israel to overcome any threats to her safety and security.

On Friday, October 20 Phil Darivoff, a member of AIPAC’s National Board, will visit Oheb Shalom to talk about AIPAC’s mission to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.  Phil’s presentation will take place at 8:30, following a brief Shabbat service at 8:00 PM.

I know that some people have questions about AIPAC’s stance on critical issues such as settlements, the policies of Israel’s current government toward the peace process, and even AIPAC’s approach to the current U.S. administration.  Those who have questions about how AIPAC does its work are encouraged to attend the presentation on October 20 and engage in a productive dialogue.

In this 120th year since Herzl called a meeting to see if he could work a miracle by setting in motion the process of rebuilding the Jewish State, in this 70th year since that miracle actually happened, I hope and pray that we will get up to answer Solveitchik’s door, for the state that Herzl envisioned and that is ours to claim is waiting.  We can start by attending the AIPAC presentation on Friday, October 20.

Rabbi Mark Cooper