Sermon – Parshas Chayei Sara – 5784
Avraham is faced with the death of his life partner, Sarah. He does what we would all do. He eulogizes her and mourns her. He attempts to acquire a burial place for his beloved wife. He wishes to acquire what we know today as the Mearat Hamachpela, the cave of the Patriarchs. It is offered to him as a gift but he insists on paying cash on the barrel for it so there can be no question of ownership in future generations. He acquires it for the princely sum of 400 silver shekels from Efron the Hittite and buries his wife.
It is important to note the order of actions that Avraham took according to the Parsha. As the verse says:
וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ׃
and Abraham proceeded to eulogize Sarah and to mourn her.
His first action was to talk of his beloved wife before he would take time to allow emotions to overcome him and to mourn her.
I have to tell you that I find the Torah an incredible resource. Not once, in all my years of offering messages, have I failed to find in the weekly Torah portion a message appropriate for the week in question. Not. Once.
This week is no exception.
I began writing this sermon on Sunday. That is unusual for me. Normally I have to think and search for the theme and message I want to give on Shabbos. But this week was different. I had just watched two Israeli videos of the aftermath of the terror attacks on October 7th.
Please forgive me if some of my descriptions are graphic and, for once, I will pause in my sermon for anyone who does not feel they can take the graphic images I will describe to leave the room. There will be no judgment if you do.
In the first video, taken by the helmet camera of an IDF police officer who responded to the massacre at the music festival, police are running through the grounds, with guns drawn, searching for both terrorists and victims. A later version, a censored version, of this video has gone viral but I saw the original version which was unmodified.
I counted at least a dozen bodies sprawled where they fell from the terrorist gunfire. You can hear the stress and pain in the soldier’s voice as he encounters the grisly sight and informs his colleagues of what he sees. At one point you hear a painful Oy Va’avoy.
In the second video, well, this one I do not have to summarize. The video is the testimony of a Zaka member, speaking in Hebrew, of what he witnessed of the remains found in Kfar Aza when he went to try and offer what assistance he could. For those of us who may not know, Zaka is an organization dedicated to ensuring that the dead, even those killed by terrorist bombs, are properly gathered and interred, as well as providing life-saving assistance for the living. Jewish law requires that every scrap of a body be buried together as much as possible. That is Zaka’s mission.
This is what he said, word for word. I have changed not a single word, and even almost none of the punctuation, from the translation on the video. Again, I caution you that this testimony is disturbing and very graphic.
Good afternoon our dear friend Eli, President of United Of United Hatzalah my name is Asher Moskowitz, UH333, deputy head of the Elad branch, and an active member of our holy work of saving lives. On the fourth day of the war, I visited the Shura base. I came to ensure the medical care of the families who were told to get information about the fate of their loved ones and were given a place outside the base to wait. During the day we were informed that 5-6 trucks with many bodies from Kfar Aza were supposed to arrive that unfortunately were horribly disfigured with severe injuries, including those who were burned alive. We went to the base to lend a hand and help. I, as a volunteer member of Achi, which is the Zaka branch of the police, came with a few friends we assisted and carried dozens of bodies from the trucks to the identification rooms inside the base. The sights that we saw were horrendous. We saw dozens of scorched bodies so severe that the coroners said that it would be difficult to identify them and luckily they had DNA samples to use for identification. As we continued our work, to our great chagrin, we also carried off the trucks small bags with body parts, really small bags, among them was a small bag which we assumed held either body parts of the body of a baby and we put it one of the rooms there. They opened the bag, this happened right at the beginning of the work, while I was still in the room, and as they opened the bag there was a gruesome sight, what appeared as a baby which the body was really swollen with what looked like a heating element attached. They told us afterward, after we left the room and they had worked on the body to try and identify it that it was, as far as they were able to tell, after the terrorists murdered the parents in a very very gruesome way at home then they took the baby and literally put him into the kitchen oven. While the baby was still alive they put him into the over and they cooked the baby alive. The body was burnt, and unfortunately, as far as I could see, the body became swollen and as a result the heating element of the oven became attached to the body itself.
We must show the world these gruesome sights and to tell the world that it is impossible to deny what these savages did. They raped women, they murdered bodies, they murdered people alive, they cut off limbs, they severed heads, crimes that have already been seen but these are crimes that must be told to the world.
I must apologize to you for bringing you these disturbing images and to relate them on a Shabbos in front of the Torahs but it is crucial that we truly understand the barbarity of the attacks our nation endured on October 7th.
General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower wrote this about his first visit to a liberated concentration camp.
The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.“I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that ‘the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
And once again, I must apologize for the next quote because it contains a word I would never say in front of a Torah but again, these are special times and I will not change one word and possibly water down the effects of the quote.
An article in Forward, dated September 17, 2020, tells this story about General Eisenhower.
After witnessing the horrors of Ohrdruf concentration camp in Germany as the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, he told his men who liberated the camps to collect testimony and film and photograph everything, because “the day will come when some son of a bitch will say this never happened.”
We are just a month from the horrors of October 7th and already the denials are happening. On October 25th, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reported:
Hamas leaders are beginning to understand the implications of executing one of the worst acts of international terrorism on record. This is why they now deny that their operatives attacked civilians in southern Israel on October 7. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, for example, rejected such accusations, stating, “We have nothing to apologize for.” This is a far cry from the bloodcurdling speech by another Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, on the day of the attacks, when he crowed about the group’s “dazzling triumph” and described it as the “ultimate jihad” that would end in “victory or martyrdom.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, according to an article in The Hill posted November 3, 2023, denies that Hamas committed acts of brutality on October 7.
Nasrallah accused Israel on Friday of committing a “complete brutality” of the Palestinian people and said the U.S. was also responsible for the deaths of civilians. He denied reports of Hamas brutally killing Israeli children and praised its Oct. 7 attack on civilians.
“The whole world is witnessing thousands of women and children being killed,” he said. “Today, defending the people of Gaza is an act of humanity.”
Now, I would not expect Hamas or Hezbollah to speak the truth. The propaganda war, which I have been talking about for weeks, is a high tech war with the Hamas propaganda arm, called “Paliwood” concocting pictures and videos of atrocities with the world swallowing them whole.
Of course, the funny part is when a video emerges of one of the “takes” where a supposedly dead body moves as the extra in the shroud forgets himself.
But, I digress.
The lies spewed by Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the Iran proxies are being swallowed and repeated as facts. Again, I remind that even the “old Grey Lady,” The New York Times, took the Hamas reports of Israel bombing a hospital, a lie made up of whole cloth, and reported it as fact for days.
I was speaking with one of our members about this sermon and expressed concern that I would be open discussing atrocities committed against our people in a frank manner without holding back. He asked me why, when we all know what happened.
THIS IS THE REASON WHY.
It is not enough to just repeat that 6 million died during the Holocaust. We all have a duty, each and every one of us, to go on YouTube and view the testimonies and the video compiled on General Eisenhower’s order, to see the full tragedy and scope of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. We can never allow the world to forget and we can only do that when we feel the pain personally.
6 million dead is not a tragedy… It is a statistic.
But… Seeing the bodies at Bergen Belsen being buried in a mass grave and being pushed into the grave with a bulldozer… Seeing the skeletal human survivors… Seeing the mounds of bodies stacked like cordwood… that makes it real and personal.
The same thing is true with October 7th, the worst day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. We cannot just speak of these atrocities, we need to feel them. They need to burn in our hearts, our guts, our eyes, and our brains. Only that way will we take to the streets, to Social Media, to the press, and to the world to fight the lies from the other side. One thousand, four hundred people cannot speak for themselves today. 240 plus hostages cannot speak for themselves today. We must speak for them. We must inundate the world with the truth so that they will not have died and suffered in vain. As our soldiers go through Gaza and clean out the Hamas infestation there, we have to fight to clean out the infestation of lies the enemy puts out there.
Support for Israel around the world is not nearly as strong as it was on October 8. Even the United States is calling for a “humanitarian pause.” Democratic representative Pramila Jayapal, admittedly no friend of truth and justice, posted the following on X formerly known as Twitter, on November 6th:
No, Congresswoman. As usual, you have it backwards. We do not need a ceasefire to get the hostages out, we need the hostages out before there can be a ceasefire. A ceasefire, without the unconditional surrender of the Hamas terrorist organization, and the return of the hostages, will not bring peace. It will give Hamas the opportunity to regroup and rearm as it has done many times in the past and war will come again.
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
The world, and the United States, seem to have forgotten that terrorist attacks can, and do, happen outside of Israel. The US has, by and large, forgotten the enormity of 9/11. The students who are protesting for a ceasefire now were, for the most part, probably not even alive on 9/11. For them, that’s history, not personal experience. But the truth is that even the adults have allowed 9/11 to fade into memory and have forgotten the lessons it taught the US.
Terrorism has affected every significant democratic nation. Great Britain, France, Germany, and more have all been the victims of Islamo-Fascist terror. Yet, they seem to have forgotten the cost of tolerating extremism in their midst. The news is full of calls regarding “islamophobia” when the truth is that anti semitic incidents occur at a 7:1 rate over anti islam incidents. But that does not fit the media narrative. Anti Semitism is acceptable to many still.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, following the direction of the President of the United States, is pushing for a “humanitarian pause.” How that differs from a ceasefire, I am not sure. However, I am totally against it. We already know that Hamas is stealing and hoarding supplies. We also know that Hamas has started seeding the wounded slated to leave to Egypt with their own fighters. We know that Hamas has tons of fuel while the hospitals that they scream are in desperate need of “humanitarian aid” of fuel, go without.
The media has reported heavily on the pro-Palestinian marches. The new narrative of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is not a genocidal threat to Israel is starting to take hold. And, let’s face it, the young generation seems to be just plain stupid. They seem to have no ability to research for themselves, even with the incredible power of Google at their fingertips, and to differentiate between evil and justice. In a way, I blame us for that because we have allowed our institutions of higher education to become indoctrination centers, not centers of thought and education. And, for the record, that’s not me saying that: That’s Bill Mahr, no conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, if you went to a pro-Hamas rally, and make no mistake, that is what they are, and ask the kids who chant “from the river to the sea” which river and which sea they are talking about, many will be clueless.
It’s crazy out there and getting crazier but there are some good signs. According to a recent Economist/YouGove poll, 40% of all Americans support Israel whereas only 13% support the Palestinians. 61% of all Americans rank supporting Israel as either Very or Somewhat important. Even more importantly, 78% of Americans think that military support for Israel should at least stay the same (31% actually support increasing military support).
The poll was taken October 28th through the 31st.
On November 7, 2023, the House of Representatives finally voted to censure the anti-semitic representative, Rashida Tlaib. In the past, I have called out both Republicans and Democrats for their failure to stand up to her evil. While 188 Democrats once again put party loyalty, or worse, over a stand against evil, 22 of them crossed the lines to join with the entire Republican caucus to censure this evil person. We should express our gratitude to them.
On November 14th there will be a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, DC. Even though he is not here to hear this himself, I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Manuel F. Negron, the Chief of Operations of the Passaic Board of Education, for allowing me to take this coming Tuesday off from work so Chana and I can attend the rally. I think this gathering is of critical importance and I hope we have over 100,000 people attending. I personally know of people who will be flying in from Los Angeles to march. I know that there is a membership meeting that evening so most of you cannot attend but Chana and I are proud to be there and represent Shaarey Israel at this historic event.
The PR war continues but, so far at least, the gains they have made with their lies have not moved Israel to change course as they continue to fight against the Hamas malevolence. This is important as the key to future peace in the region lies, to begin with, in the destruction of Hamas. Once Hamas has been removed from any position of governance, the next step will be to deNazify, or deHamasify, Gaza and remove their influence. Israel does not yet know how they will accomplish this because they rightfully do not want to rule Gaza. Under normal circumstances, one would expect this to have been planned up front but, unlike World War II which lasted for years and gave the Allies time to plan for the end of the war, Israel has not yet had that opportunity. I am sure that there are discussions ongoing within the Israeli government about this but that is tomorrow’s problem. Today, the enemy must be defeated.
And, to those who are crying over the hardships being experienced by the innocent civilians of Gaza, I offer the following. On August 11th, 1945, President Harry S. Truman sent a letter to Mr. Samuel McCrea, General Secretary of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. The letter said the following:
My dear Mr. Cavert:
I appreciate very much your telegram of August ninth.
Nobody is more disturbed by the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.
When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.
Harry S. Truman
Actually, Harry Truman in his letter was just echoing Torah as the verse in Shmuel (Samuel) says:
עִם־נָבָר תִּתָּבָר וְעִם־עִקֵּשׁ תִּתַּפָּל׃
With the pure You act in purity, And with the perverse You are wily.
Once again, I have to put a bottom line to this and I take my lead from Avraham. Our people are still reeling from the shock of October 7. There is tremendous grief throughout the Jewish world over the horrors that occurred on that day. Just the other day, a family member of a hostage said that he had attended more funerals in the past week than he had in his entire life. There are too many reasons to mourn and cry.
But now is not the time. We will have the time to mourn “the burning that Hashem has wrought,” to quote the verse in Parshat Shemini. Now we have to speak. Where Avraham spoke about his wife, we have to speak for those that can no longer speak. Our mission has not changed and we must remain energized and vigilant. We must never forget that baby who was brutally murdered nor can we forget the babies that are in captivity. We have to march, we have to write, we have to post, and we have to speak.
Life will move on. Once the mission is complete, I hope a new normal will emerge in which Israel will live in peace with her neighbors. That may be a pipedream but I can dream and pray and so I will. But, for now, I will do my part every day to fight for Israel and the Jewish people. And, so must we all.