“I want to connect those successes to the breastplate of the High Priest we read about in this week’s Torah portion and the questions we grapple with on Shabbat Zachor” | Breastplate (of High Priest) cc: wikipedi
Last week we celebrated two important, if partial successes, and I want to connect those successes to the breastplate of the High Priest we read about in this week’s Torah portion and the questions we grapple with on Shabbat Zachor.
Firstly, The JNF confirmed statements we have heard in recent weeks that they will not plant in areas in areas where there are legal disputes over land ownership. This is only a partial success because much Bedouin land in the Negev has already been planted, it is not clear whether this is a general principle or only relates to four specific plots in El-Arakib, we aren’t sure if the commitment not to plant includes not preparing the land for planting, the Israel Lands Authority has made it clear that they still intend to plant, we can’t count on receiving justice in the Israeli court system, and the JNF/KKL has been unwilling to explain a brief but disturbing incident recently which seems to contradict this commitment. Nevertheless, this is a significant change from their JNF/KKL Chairperson Efi Stenzler’s declaration at a meeting of the directorate this past summer that the planting on the remains of El-Arakib would take place at the end of this rainy season, even if Beer Sheva District Court Judge Nehama Netzer issued a non-binding request not to plant before the court rules on the ownership dispute. (Unfortunately Judge Netzer recently again confirmed that her request is non binding, and that the State has a right to proceed.) However, the right wing sees this minor victory as traitorous.
Secondly, Amidar cancelled the eviction of Ovadia and Miriam Ben-Avraham scheduled for this past Monday. It was so wonderful to hear Ovadia say that he was again sleeping at night, and to celebrate with him on the very day he was to have been evicted. In the words of The Book of Esther, the day was “Transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy.” (Esther 9:22) . Again, this was a partial success. We have yet to deal with Ovadia and Miriam’s alleged debt, and many more evictions were scheduled this month in Jerusalem alone. However, as we are taught in the Mishna, “One who saves a single life, it is as if one has saved an entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4)
As I reflect on these two events, I not only think about the importance of making a difference for a single family or saving a single dunam of land. I also think about the breastplate to be worn by the High Priest, set with 12 stones. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is commanded to make the breastplate as part of the vestments to be worn by Aaron in the Miskhan, the portable Tabernacle housing the tablets with the ten commandments, where Moses will speak with God, and where Aaron and his sons will serve God, “The stones shall correspond to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. (Exodus 28:21)
I have always thought how wonderful it is that the High Priest serves God with all the tribes of Israel close to his heart. Yes, Biblical scholars have made careers out of analyzing the blessings and the rebuke for each of the tribes which Jacob and Moses each utter before their deaths, and how they reflect the power struggles between the tribes. However, in those most sacred moments when the High Priest would go into the inner sanctum of the desert Mishkan or the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, each tribe had a place, and each was equally important.
In our world, we not only the twelve tribes must be close to our hearts.
The Bedouin of the unrecognized villages and those dependent on public housing are two of our forgotten tribes. Sometimes these Israeli citizens are demonized and blamed for societies ills, but often they are simply ignored. Who knows or cares that 30-45,000 Bedouin could be evicted from their homes if the Praver recommendations are adapted by the Knesset? How many people know or care that at least 40,000 people are on waiting lists for public housing and thousands in need are not even deemed eligible to be on the lists, while others dwell in homes in life threatening states of disrepair and hundreds are evicted every year?
In our Holy of Holies, every person counts, from Jerusalem to El-Arakib; from Tel Aviv to the South Hebron Hills. From Hadera to Silwan; From the Azrieli towers to the fields of Jalud.
When I quote from the Book of Esther, I also reflect on the fact that exactly a year ago my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah on Parashat Zachor and Purim, bringing up for me all the difficulties of celebrating the mass killing of even our enemies, and the challenge presented by the idea that the Jewish people must wipe out the seed of Amalek in every generation. I have always connected to the idea that we must battle, “Amelekiut,” the characteristics of attacking the weakest and most helpless members of our society and the use of eifah v’eifah (double standards). The Torah tells us that Amalek attacked the weak stragglers (Deut. 25:18). Because the verses from which the sages derive the prohibition against acting eifah v’eifah appears immediately before the mention of Amalek, Rashi teaches that when we act eifah v’eifah, Amalek attacks. I see “Amalekiut” in how we treated the El-Arakib’s and the Ovadiahs in our society. However, we know that the massacre by Barukh Goldstein on Purim is but one example of how our texts and our history can lead us to justify lashing out at real or perceived enemies, “Sweeping away the innocent with along with the guilty,” (Genesis 18:23), not to mention the fact that perhaps even the guilty could do teshuvah. We pray in the “Aleinu” prayer every day, we ask God to, “Turn to You all the evildoers of the earth.”
In the days leading up to Purim we will be asking both on our website and facebook how we honor our textual tradition and acknowledge our history of oppression without feeding an “Us against the world” mentality and the exploitation of our legitimate desire for security that justify the Baruch Goldsteins, Jewish exceptionalism and human rights violations.
On this Shabbat Tetzaveh and Zakhor, may we focus on purging the persecution of the weak and discriminatory double standards from our midst, thus rededicating ourselves to the building of a national Tabernacle of justice, and remembering to bring every human being into our “Mikdash Me’at” the Holy of Holies in our hearts.