On Saturday night a Ta’ayush activist called me right after Shabbat ended. In a choked up voice he told me about the day’s events I had not witnessed because of the fact that I am Shabbat observant. Thanks to the work of our OT legal staff the valley of T’wamin was filled with Palestinian shepherds and their flocks for the first time in over ten years. The IDF kept at bay the frustrated Israelis so used to having the army due their bidding and chasing Palestinians of their own land. I was able to check off one of the longer standing items in my open notebook. It must have been 2001 or 2002 when Yousef Mor first told me that settlers and the army were preventing them from using the valley, and showed me the caves where animals had been stabbed and sacks of grain ripped open.
This week police arrived to evict families from Amidar housing in Ramla
, but thought the better of it when they saw the home was filled with activists. In other locations eviction orders have been rescinded or frozen.
In Beit Shean several families report that Amidar officials are practically banging down their doors to talk to them. In at least one case, six years worth of dangerous water damage are finally being repaired.
In the unrecognized village of El-Arakib pressure in Israel and abroad led to the cessation of the JNF’s work and the dismantling of the bivouac for bulldozers. (The lean tos are still being demolished and another bivouac has been set up not so far away.)
After some four years of efforts, the army finally ended the takeover of the Hurshiya family land next to Susya. Most of the land was returned several years ago, but the land on which Moshe Deutsch had managed to plant a vineyard took much more time.
From the social struggles into Passover
None of these victories are the cataclysmic act of salvation recounted in the exodus story. (And it is not enough to remove drops of wine from our seder cups when recounting the plagues, or to recite the midrash from Shir HaShirim Rabah containing God’s rebuke to the angels, “My children are drowning and you sing praises.” We truly do not want to see those with whom we are in conflict suffer anything close to the suffering of the Egyptians, not among our fellow Israelis and not among those beyond our borders.)
None of these successes make it any easier to stomach the pictures coming out of Awarta, nor do they staunch the fear as civilians on both sides are again becoming targets in the south.
However, these acheivements do reinforce a central theme of Passover. The God whom Rabbi Michael Lerner says is the God of endless possibilities ordains that slaves do not have to accept that they will always be slaves. Neither do we need to accept that we will always be enslaved to our current reality.
Sometimes, perhaps after years and years of waiting, there comes a magic moment of change, of tikun.
The haggadah emphasizes that God intervenes directly to free us from Egypt, not by means of angels or seraphs or messengers or human agents or history. Even as we pray for God’s direct deliverance, we know that in the meantime we are the messengers and the human agents through whom God acts.
As we take on this responsibility, we must remember what I was told yesterday when I spoke on a panel about our obligation to fulfill our work with love for our fellow Israelis and faith in their goodness. In the haggadah we read, “The wicked son says, What is this service to YOU. TO YOU and not to himself. By excluding himself from the collective, he denies the essence.” We must do our utmost not to separate ourselves from the community. Because we are not wicked and we know it, we are ironically especially susceptible to falling into that very trap.
And finally, let us remember what it is all about. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch prophetically wrote in his Torah commentary written even before the First Zionist Congress:
Exodus 22: 20-23 |You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him/her, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-teat any widow or orphan/ If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger will blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives will become widows and your children orphans.” “Do not oppress the stranger…”
“The verse emphasizes the central principle, oft-repeated in the Torah in many places: It is neither race, nor descent, nor birth nor country nor property, or anything else external or due to chance, or anything other than the simple and puree inner essential essence of a human being, which gives him human and civil rights. They are dependent only on the spiritual and moral value of one’s humanity.
And the special explanation, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt” comes to prevent this principle from being compromised in any way… your whole misfortune in Egypt was that you were “foreigners”, “aliens”, there . As such, according to the views of other nations, you had no right to be there, had no claim to rights of settlement, home, or land. They could do with you whatever they wished. As aliens you were without any rights in Egypt. This was the root out of your slavery and the wretchedness that was imposed upon you. Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making rights in your own State conditional on anything other than on that basic humanity which dwells in every human being by virtue of being human. With any suppression of these human rights the gate is opened to the brazen mistreatment of other human beings. This is the root of the Egyptian horror.”
God, on this Shabbat HaGadol and Passover we pray for the faith necessary to be Your agents in bringing closer the day when Elljah the Prophet will turn the hearts of parents towards their children and the hearts of children towards their parents (Malakhi 3:23) – When Israelis will be reconciled with Palestinians; nation with nation; ethnic group with ethnic group; Israelis among themselves. May we have the stamina to continue working for the day when social and economic gaps will be reduced if not entirely reconciled. Although we do not know when that day will come, we thank You for the glimpses you have given us of what is possible.
Shabbat Shalom and Khag Sameakh,