TORAH MINUTE - CHAYE SARAH NOV 1996
The portion of CHAYE SARAH is one of the more difficult SEDRAH's for me to speak about. It deals with death and marriage (some consider those to be one and the same) and I have so far managed to avoid both. But the reason for my difficulty, is that in the light of events occuring not to long ago, the chapters of Genesis which comprise the portions of LECH LECHA, VAYERA and CHAYE SARAH cause me great anxiety, touching upon, as they do, the life of Ishmael. With this in mind, I ask your indulgence as I make my comments in the first person.
Five years ago, I stood before you speaking on PARSHAS LECH LECHA, and I admitted that I returned from the Gulf War with great difficulty understanding and accepting HASHEM's promise to Ishmael that his seed would be a great nation. I had hoped to come to grips with my hatred of the descendants of Ishmael and wanted to return to, at least, the state of indifference I had before the war. I am sad to say that the five ensuing years have not mitigated my feelings, this is partially because I have yet to find the spiritual strength to overcome my prejudices and partially because the Ishmaelites have done little on their own behalf to change my mind.
The opening phrases of Chaye Sarah, describing Abraham's negotiations to secure the Cave of Machpela are poignant today, many thousands of years after Abraham and Sarah's internment, because access to this shrine by their Jewish descendants still remains a source of controversy. Let me read you a quote of Rabbi J.L. Hertz, of blessed memory, written around 1936, in his commentary on CHAYE SARAH:
"For generations, nay centuries, the children of Israel were to have no point of fixity save the sepulchre of the Patriarchs. The Cave of Machpelah is regarded with immense veneration by the Mohammedans, who built a large mosque over it, and until recently altogether excluded both Jews and Christians from viewing it. A visit is still connected with considerable difficulty to a Jew."
Sadly, little has changed in the sixty years since the Dr. Hertz wrote those words. Hebron is as we speak, the focal point of bitter negotiations with a seemingly implacable adversary. The peace process, which I had so much hope for, has deteriorated into little more than a land grab by the Ishmaelites. As the typically hostile press calls for more and more "Israeli concessions" for peace, not one single reciprocal action has been offered by the Ishmaelites for the Jewish land they have already been conceded. Any personal support I've had for this peace process has long since withered away. It is time for the American Jewish community to stop apologizing for being Jewish and demand the only acceptable framework for settlement - free access to our shrines in Hebron and Bethlehem, unrestricted settlement by Jews on any land west of the Jordan river and an undivided, Jewish owned Jerusalem.
True, the unfortunate consequence of this position may be an endless stalemate, resulting in "Fortress Israel", but few, if any, other options can be envisioned. The stated Ishmaelite goal is to hoist their flag over the old city of Jerusalem and eventually over all Israel. Although their current use of the peace process to achieve it is new, their goal is ancient, witness the concluding sentence of CHAYE SARAH (25:18), "And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur ... over all his brethren he did settle". The Sages interpret this as the fulfillment of HASHEM's promise to Hagar that Ishmael will be a great nation. Perhaps it is better to consider it a challenge, both to ancient and modern Israel, to remain strong, to remain vigilant, to remain faithful, as the solitary and fragile Island of Torah in a raging Ishmaelite sea.
The portion of CHAYE SARAH does offer a glimmer of hope for the future in describing what is probably the only time in history that Isaac and Ishmael stood together in harmony. This occurred at the funeral of their father, Abraham, where Ishmael went so far as to permit Isaac to precede him in the funeral procession. Although that reconciliation was short-lived, my faith does convince me that the descendants of Isaac and those of Ishmael will once again live together in harmony. As a Jew, ANI MEAMIN BEMUNAH SHELEMA BEVIAS HAMOSHIACH, I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, when Israeli swords will finally "be beaten into plowshares", may we continue to have the strength to endure until then.
When I was first told that I would be speaking on CHAYE SARAH, I joked to Rabbi Berkowitz that the PARSHA was inappropriately named in that SARAH passes away in the very beginning. He reminded me of the Talmudic interpretation of this fact, which says that we must use the account of a righteous person's passing to celebrate and emulate their lives. How is it possible, in the light of these trying times to emulate the gentle and magnanimous ways of our father Abraham. Abraham, who prayed for mercy for the evil inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra and who taught the world the meaning of neighborliness and hospitality.
Perhaps one way is to concentrate on respecting our contemporary elders, preferably while they are still with us. In this vain I'd like to again, as I did in my first talk in 1991, explain why my father has just read the traditional prayer for the government in English. The precedents for reciting the prayers for the Israeli and American Governments are well known. It was my fathers desire to continue the beautiful custom of a congregation we attended in Mount Freedom, where new meaning was added to the prayers for the governments of Israel and the United States by reciting them in the respective languages of each country. Incidentally, that congregation was guided for thirteen years by Rabbi Berkowitz's uncle, Rabbi Jerry Pruzanski of blessed memory, who had such a great influence on me. May his memory continue to inspire all whom he touched in his lifetime.
Therefore, regardless of our political affiliation, I implore you to offer your respect not only to my father but to all of our parents, the builders of this country, and the builders of the Nation of Israel, by refraining from unnecessary comments and standing silently and respectfully during the recitation of the prayers for the welfare of Israel and the United States.