This sermon was delivered on Shabbas Parshas Lech Lecha 5784 – October 28, 2023.
Hashem tells Avram to “Lech Lecha”, leave your homeland and birthplace. Hashem does not even tell him where he is going. Hashem merely says he is going “to a land which I will show you.” Avram does not question Hashem’s order; he just packs up and leaves.
Our sages tell us that “Maaseh Avot Siman LeBanim,” “the things that happened to our forefathers are a portend for their children.” And so it has been. For millennia, the Jewish people have been told Lech Lecha: get out. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews have been expelled from country after country, always leaving without an idea of where they might be able to rest their heads next. Jews were expelled from (just to name a few):
- France in 1254
- England in 1290
- Spain in 1492
- Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky in 1862
And yes, I was surprised to see three American states on that list. That order, issued by General Ulysses S. Grant in 1862, was countermanded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
The point, though, is that throughout the world, we Jews have heard the words Lech Lecha again and again over the centuries of our exile. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were also functionally expelled from various Arab countries as the Arab world tried to go Judenrein. Today, almost no Jews are left in those lands.
The most serious Lech Lecha, of course, happened during the Nazi years in Germany. All Germany wanted was to be rid of their Jews but, for the first time, there truly was no place where they could go. All of the so-called “free world” closed their doors. Great Britain closed the doors of Jewish immigration into the Palestine mandate to placate the restive Arab population. Even the United States, the beacon of freedom to the world, closed their doors and refused to accept Jewish refugees.
So, Germany’s Lech Lecha to the Jewish people no longer ordered Jewish exit from a country or land but rather from life itself, and six million holy and pure souls were lost to the Nazi genocidal insanity.
The horrors of the Holocaust were unprecedented. While the Holocaust was by far not the first time Jews were targeted for murder and genocide, it was the first time that the murder was supported by modern industrial methods that allowed for the elimination of thousands of Jews at a time. Additionally, the pictorial evidence made possible by modern photographic technologies brought the horror of the Holocaust to all the eyes of the world. And the world, for the first time, was shocked at the treatment of the Jewish people and by the hideous results of the Nazi genocidal effort against our people. The world, for a mere microsecond of cosmic time, showed compassion for the Jewish people and granted us a small strip of dirt in the Middle East as a refuge when the United Nations approved the Partition Plan for Palestine which led to the 1948 declaration of independence and creation of the State of Israel.
I highly doubt that the countries who voted in favor of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine ever imagined that Israel would survive. But, as the Torah tells us, Hashem fights for the Jewish people.
כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹיְבֶךָ וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם כִּי־ה אֱלֹקיךָ עִמָּךְ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם׃
“When you take the field against your enemies, and see horses and chariots—forces larger than yours—have no fear of them, for HASHEM your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, is with you.“
Hashem has made sure that Israel would not only survive but thrive. For the last 75 years, Israel has stood as a beacon of democratic freedom in a despotic region of the world and has flourished from a population of 806,000 people in 1948 to 9,147,000 in 2023. Israel is surrounded by autocratic monarchies and dictatorships, none of whom love her. But the State has thrived and even made inroads towards peace with the nation-states it neighbors.
The Israel that started out as a poverty stricken nation with a fragile economy, dependent on the largesse of the Jewish world, has now boomed as a leader in technology, healthcare, and industrial manufacturing. What started out like a newborn colt, struggling to stand on shaky legs, is now the Secretariat of nations proudly standing tall in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world.
But Israel is always at risk. Nations like Syria and Lebanon, failed states because of their incompetent, corrupt, and brutal leaders, work against her daily. Terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and too many more to count, all scheme constantly to kill as many Jews as possible. These players would prefer to take up and complete the job that the Nazis started. But, to their great dismay, the State of Israel valiantly holds fast against them and their Iranian masters.
Today, Israel is at war. I pray that this conflict will be over, and the hostages returned, quickly. But I fear that will not be the case. Once again, Jewish blood has been spilled by those who believe that we do not have the right to live. The sophomoric morons in the United States, Britain and Europe who are chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are not calling for a free Palestine. They are calling for a Judenrein Palestine. The Jews that live there are to be driven into the sea.
Israel’s response is, quite rightly, never again. Lech Lecha must become an historical oddity for us going forward. The State of Israel is and must forever remain a haven for the Jews of the world, because in no other place are our residence and freedoms guaranteed. We have been expelled from place after place and this time we say, in one strong and unified voice, no more! We have our own home now, and we will not be going anywhere. And, if you don’t like it, we will fight and defend ourselves with every weapon in our arsenal. Our people will no longer surrender to death, we will no longer be led into the gas chambers and carried to the ovens. Israel is our ancestral and current home, the one place we will always be welcome.
I grieve for the innocent dead, regardless of which side of the border they are from. But those idiotic anti-Semites of the world, including (and perhaps especially) the morally bankrupt Secretary General of the United Nations, who have the chutzpah to blame the victim, Israel, for the casualties of this war will not be successful. Israel has no choice but to prosecute this war to the end, and that end must be the ultimate annihilation, destruction, and unconditional surrender of the terrorist organization known as Hamas. Any casualties incurred in this war are not on Israel’s head, any more than the casualties in World War II were on the United States’ head. Just as the US was forced into war by the evil Axis powers and had to do whatever was necessary to destroy the evil that they represented to bring peace back to their nation and the world, Israel has been forced into war by the evil Hamas terrorists. Hamas weeps crocodile tears over the dead in Gaza, but they want those casualties as fodder for their propaganda war. They use those civilians as human shields and exaggerate the casualties to fuel Jew hatred throughout the world.
The world is clamoring for a “ceasefire now” and crying over the civilians in Gaza. Well, to put it bluntly, I like civilian casualties in Gaza no more than they do. But, first, I hear not one word about the hostages. I hear not one word about the Israelis who were massacred by Hamas or who still die from rocket fire. I hear the mainstream media, including such venerable institutions as the New York Times, spew Hamas propaganda without any fact checking. It took the NYT days to admit that the blood libel of Israel bombing a hospital was demonstrably false. It is hard to take these birdbrains seriously when it is so clear that they are only calling for a ceasefire because the dead are NOT Jewish. In the event the situation were reversed, we would be seeing protests from these anti-Semitic boneheads in favor of Hamas’ “resistance.”
Second, we must never forget that Hamas took control of Gaza after they were elected to lead by Gazan voters in 2006. Even though there has been no election since then, Gazans still, over all, support Hamas. According to a recent article by the Washington Institute, 57% of Gazans still view Hamas favorably. And, this was after the October 7, attacks. It should be a basic rule that one should not start a war one is not prepared to fight. Hamas started this war and their people still support them. That tells a huge, and painful, story. I wish there would be no civilian casualties but, at this point, I can have no more sympathy for the people of Gaza than I could for the Germans during World War II. Israel has to be focused and strong in their actions and goals. Hamas must, as Germany and Japan did, surrender unconditionally. There can be no other result regardless of the cost in Gaza. Israel’s first responsibility lies with the safety of Israeli citizens, not Gazans.
It’s not all dark gray storm clouds though. There are some rays of sunshine. For once, the United States has been fairly strong in its public support for Israel. Leaders of many other countries are expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Although the simultaneous calls by world leaders to remind Israel that it has to “abide by international law” are, to be honest, insulting given the nature of the crimes committed against it and the enemy they are fighting, the levels of statements of support are unlike anything I can remember in a long time. However, I can see cracks in this support forming as more and more leaders around the world express their “concern” over the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and pressure Israel. The ludicrous and perfidious statement of the feckless Secretary General of the United Nations leads my list of foreign so-called leaders chipping away at the world’s support for Israel.
Being 6,000 miles away from Israel right now is hard for us. We are far removed from ones we love. We want to hold them, comfort them, and protect them. But we can’t. However, that does not mean we are powerless. There is much we can do.
Those of us on social media must fight the glut of Hamas’ evil propaganda. We must call out the Hamas apologists and mouthpieces for the wicked scum they are, in protests, on social media, and in letters to the press. We cannot give an inch in the PR war which is just as critical as the physical war. The PR war is raising the levels of global antisemitism to levels not seen in a long time. Even in the United States, especially on college campuses, Jews are being subject to increasing danger and hatred.
Just last Thursday, Jewish students at Cooper Union University had to barricade themselves in the Library while a slavering horde of antisemitic students pounded on the door shouting “Let Us In!” and “Free Palestine!” At a subsequent press conference, the university claimed that the students were never in any danger.
We must fight the bad information with good information. We have to make sure that our side gets out to the world. While we may not have the reach of anti-semitic stars like John Cusack and Mark Ruffalo, we can still make a difference. We must make our opinions heard in public, on social media, in the press, and in our conversations. We can no longer brook any argument on the clear moral dichotomy before us. Israel must defend itself and, what they are doing, is the only way they can.
We can also not be silent when members of our own government, of either party, scream support for the murderers and not the victims. The evil of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib can no longer be buried under the cover of party loyalty. Every Jew, especially Democrats, must call them out. Especially Tlaib who continues to blame Israel, despite all evidence to the contrary, for the Hospital rocket attack.
In fact, the House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing their support for the State of Israel. 10 legislators, 9 Democrat and 1 Republican, voted against it. Those representatives are:
- Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York
- Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri
- Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana
- Rep. Al Green of Texas
- Rep. Summer Lee of Pennsylvania
- Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York
- Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota
- Rep. Delia Ramirez of Illinois
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan
6 Democratic legislators voted present, which is the equivalent of an abstention.
- Rep. Greg Casar of Texas
- Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas
- Rep. Chuy Garcia of Illinois
- Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington
- Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts
- Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York
How difficult is it to vote in favor of a resolution expressing support for a nation whose citizens were brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped? Where is the moral clarity we have a right to expect from our representatives?
To be sure, I have been gratified by many criticisms expressed by members of the Democratic party against representatives like Tlaib. But we need more. We need action. Representatives like Tlaib and Omar are an offense against the very concept of “good government” for their lack of morals are the very basis for good government.
The Talmud tells us that “Silence is like agreement.” Being silent in the face of vicious, terrorist loving, antisemitic congresspeople is a crime. We must all call or write our representatives and call upon them to issue statements calling for these poor excuses for public servants to be censured and even expelled from congress. The hallowed halls of congress must not be a haven for racists and antisemites. It would probably also be a good idea to call these evil representatives’ offices themselves and voice your outrage.
We must also provide financial, moral, and spiritual support. Donating to the organizations dedicated to helping the victims, the displaced families in Israel, and the IDF soldiers going into battle are worthy causes and we must generously support them. My son and daughter in law have been raising funds to provide reserve units with essential equipment. They have also been supplying critical safety equipment to Yishuvim in Israel, such as drones which are almost impossible to buy in Israel right now, so these towns can bolster their security. These are the kinds of activities we should be undertaking.
We must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters. Today, for the first time in my life, I said Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos. We never say Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos, even when Yom Kippur occurs on the Shabbos day. Yet today we said it, in accordance with a ruling by Rabbi Herschel Schachter of Yeshiva University, a leader in contemporary Halachic thought. His proclamation was due to the existential nature of this crisis and what it represents not only to Israel but to the entire Jewish World.
We must take opportunities to add prayers on our own as well. Psalms 121, 130, and 122, in that order, are a good place to start.
Any additional mitzvot and Torah learning we can undertake are important too. Nothing is too small or insignificant. Any effort can and will make a difference.
My friends, the past several weeks have been amongst the most difficult we have ever faced as a nation. But we will prevail with Hashem’s help. Of that I am certain. No longer will we heed the call of Lech Lecha. Israel is our home and we are staying. And it is HIGH time the world just accepted that simple, inarguable, fact.
Thank you and Good Shabbos.