Matot 2014 – Placing Our Lot With Israel

In front of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, over 1000 citizens of Indianapolis have been invited to a
rally entitled, “Emergency Protest for Palestine”. It was scheduled to coincide with our
Shabbat services, and several of our congregants received information about this rally.
There is nothing wrong with advocating for justice and right on both sides of this conflict. There
is nothing wrong with listening to, hearing the narrative of the Palestinian people. The history
is long, convoluted, with blame thrown around freely, passed from one generation to the next,
alongside bloodshed and terror.

Have Jews overreacted with hatred and anger, from time to time, yes. There have been plots to
attack mosques, schools, and we mourn the loss of Palestinian life.

But there is a difference. There is no moral equivalency. When Jews plot to attack, they are
ostracized from their community, held accountable by their fellow Jews for their crimes.
And when well funded terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas overtly declare there will be
no ceasefire, when they parade their martyred children in the streets as heroes, when they
deny responsibility for keeping their own people in the chains of poverty and using them
instead as human shields – stockpiling weapons in private homes, schools, hospitals and
mosques – then the war we fight is not a war of land in the Middle East, and we, here in the
Mid-West are not far removed from it at all. Rather it is a war of ideas, of values – it is a war on
extremism that would quite literally value death over life, place nationalist ideals over building
a future for their children.

When Yassar Arafat died we discovered he had kept his wife and child in a luxury hotel suite in
Paris, hoarding away millions of dollars for himself rather than investing in infrastructure and
education for the Palestinian people. They are victims, make no mistake, but their persecutors
are not wearing Israeli army uniforms.

But “so what?” you might ask. What does this really have to do with us? We just want to stay
away from the bombs, and the warning sirens. We don’t feel connected to this sliver of land
next to the Mediterranean Sea, we feel no existential threat as Jews. Life is good for us here, in
the Golden Medina, America, the land of opportunity.

This week, in Parashat Matot, the Isrealites plan their conquest of the Promised Land, for which
they have waited forty long years of wandering the desert. An entire generation has died in
order for this young, idealistic group to finally enter.

And two tribes, the tribe of Gad and the tribe of Reuben, notice something strange about Israel,
even from afar. On the eastern shore of the Jordan, they sit in lush green pastures, watered by
the strong flows of the river. They are perhaps used to the manna, the ever renewing
sustenance that has been provided for them along the journey. And they imagine the hard life
of building cities and fortresses to defend the holy land from the many enemies that will surely

These two tribes say something remarkable to Moses. They ask for permission to stay behind.
Let us make our camps here, on the east side of the river, rather than entering the Promised
Land. Here we will be able to provide for our flocks, after all we are shepherds, and we will
build cities for our children and future generations.

And, according to Rashi’s commentary, the order of their words is not arbitrary. Moses is
incensed – do you mean to look after your own wealth, your flocks, before you think about
establishing something permanent for your children? Would you really place the sheep before
your own sons and daughters?

No, no, they reply – of course we love our children, and we want to build for the future. But
the question for us, they say, is where will be build our camp? Where will we cast our lot, and
we would like your permission, to remain here, not in Israel.

This is, after all, the same question we face today. It does not matter whether we support or
reject specific policies of the Israeli government. We can argue and debate and advocate and
rationalize until the flocks come home. But Israel faces an existential threat – no doubt in my
mind – five armies surrounding Israel who even now prove to us that (peace treaties aside) they
will always seek to drive the Jews into the sea.

Our question is not, will you go to live there, will you cross the great waters that divide us and
show your support, it is, in a great sense – where do you build your camp? Israel has the right
to defend herself, of course she does, no matter what anyone at a rally or sermon or U.N.
declaration says. There is no moral equivalency between those who seek to reduce civilian
casualties and those who seek to exploit civilian casualties, and directly target civilian centers.

For years now, Israel has gone door to door to warn civilians before bombings are to take place.
Hamas will come along right behind and encourage those same Gazans to stay right where they
are – in harm’s way. When asked about this fact, this reality, Palestinian spokespeople will
avoid a straight answer at all costs, only arguing that Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis.
That may be true, but we did not create that crisis.

Let us affirm, as caring thoughtful knowledgeable Jews living in America, that we cast our lot
with the global Jewish community, that we build our camp right next to our brave brothers and
sisters in Israel. Let us not place our own wealth and comfort above those base needs we all
share for community and a sense of belonging. Let us not place our own wealth and comfort
above an honest sense of right and wrong. Let us build our camp with Israel, let us cast our lot
with theirs. Because we know it is the truth – our fate is tied up in theirs. And as long as
antiIsrael and anti-semitic sentiment rules the airwaves, then it is not just Israel, we face an
existential threat as well.

May Torah be heard from the hills of Zion, peace come down from the high heavens, and
justice roll down like a mighty stream