Becoming Whole: Jewish Unity in 5776© Rosh Hashanah Day 2 - Rabbi David Baum

Becoming Whole:  Jewish Unity in 5776©
Rosh Hashanah Day 2 - Rabbi David Baum
Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

Do you remember where you were last summer when you heard about the kidnapping of the three Jewish teens in Israel? 

I was at Camp Ramah Darom, surrounded by Jewish kids, of all ages.  I quickly came to a realization, they weren't Israeli boys, they weren’t Orthodox boys, they were our boys. 

Immediately after the boys were taken, the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys began and the whole Jewish world united.  After the news came to us, that all three boys had been murdered by Hamas terrorists, our hearts broke, but after all the heart break, we realized something:  WE NEED EACH OTHER TO BE MORE WHOLE.  We need this message now even more this year after the summer we had – the summer where we debated the Iran Nuclear Deal. 

Last year, there was a real battle, between Israel and Hamas.  Yossi Klein HaLevi, the famous Israeli writer and thinker said to us (hundreds of rabbis gathering together to study) with a sad face:  This summer, the battle wasn’t in Israel, it was here, in the U.S. on Capitol Hill, in our living rooms and dining rooms, in coffee shops, and of course, online on Facebook and Twitter, and even in our Batei Knesset as we discussed the Iran Nuclear Deal.  He said, for the first time, we were on the front lines in a debate for Israel’s future. 

Some in our Jewish community called each other names. 

The Jews who supported the deal were called kapos by some.  They were accused of helping to bring their fellow Jews to the slaughter.

The Jews who were against the deal were accused of dual loyalties – accused of treason against the United States of America.  They were called warmongers, and many received anti-Semitic taunts from non-Jews.

Those who stayed neutral – well, they were called cowards for not choosing a side, or, just plain stupid for not being able to understand the deal. 

Where do we go from here?

Thousands of years ago, there was a dispute between the academy of Shammai and the academy of Hillel where each side claimed victory:  “The law is according to our views.”  Suddenly, after three years of a gridlock, a force broke the stalemate:  the voice of God, the Bat Kol.  The voice of God states, “Elu V’ Elu Divrei Elohim Chaim.”  “Your words and your words are the words of the living God…”

What struck me were God’s words – those words AND those words, are the voice of the LIVING God.  God was telling them – it doesn’t matter what opinion you take, but if one of you is going to be right, then you must acknowledge that there is divinity inside the other, as crazy as it might sound in the heat of an argument, even an argument that you think has to do with the future of our lives.

If you called someone a kappo for supporting the deal, maybe you can see that they believed it was the best deal possible, that they believed they were fighting for our people.   

If you called someone a war monger or a traitor for opposing the deal, maybe you could see that they feel strongly that this deal is so bad that our allies must return to the negotiating table, that they believed they were fighting for our people. 

If you called someone a coward for staying neutral, perhaps they felt, what could I add to this debate except more fuel to the fire?  And they believed they were fighting for our people. 

When I think about this summer, I’m reminded of a famous midrash about the lulav and etrog.  The midrash starts off on an interesting note – the etrog has both flavor and smell - so there are Jews who have Torah, wisdom, and good deeds – so if you seemingly have it all, the “perfect Jew”, why add the rest?  The midrash goes on – the etrog must be surrounded by the lulav, the palm, has flavor, but no smell/fragrance, so too there are Jews have Torah, but don't act in the world - they keep it to themselves.  Then we have the Hadas - Myrtle – it has smell, but no flavor – so too there are Jews who act in this world, but don't study our tradition.  Then we have the Aravah - the willow – it has no smell, and no flavor - Maybe these are just Jews in name only.  The Midrash tells us that God binds them together, that there is no perfect Jew, not even the etrog – each Jew needs the other to be more whole.  We are all needed to build a brighter Jewish future. 

Last summer, when the three boys were taken hostage, the Jewish community, no matter how they labeled themselves, came together.  The body of the Jewish people came rose to the challenge. 

Rachel Fraenkel, said this about her ordeal last summer:  “People from all over were saying these are not just your boys, these are our children. Sometimes I ask myself was this just an illusion? I have this image of a person walking in the dark and its raining and they’re stumbling and theyre figuring out their way.  They dont see anything and then for a second theres lightning and in that lightning they see the reality of their surroundings. It helps them guide their way. We had days and days of lightning. Its no illusion what we saw there, ourselves. Were part of something huge. Were part of a people, of a true family thats for real.

This summer, we observed holidays where our people came apart, Tisha B’av, but a new holidays began this June - Unity Day, by the parents of these boys. 

On this day, Rachel Fraenkel stated, “We want unity, not uniformity”
We need each other, but we need each other be different so we can be whole. 

On that day, our people proudly stated that we are Am Echad – One Nation. 

Rosh Hashanah is also a day of unity - when we realize that we share the same heart, the same body, and the life force must flow to all parts of our body. 

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel and one of the youngest survivors of the notorious death camp Auschwitz, recently said standing in the very camp where he lost so many of his family and friends:  

(minute mark 12:14)
“This place – Auschwitz-Birkenau – is the largest cemetery on this earth. It proves that we know how to die together. There are no divisions between Sephardi and Ashkenazi, between secular and religious, between enlightened and ignorant, rich and poor. They were all killed as Jews. The time has come for us to leave here with a message that we also have to know how to live together. The secret of dying together is not enough. We have to find the secret of living together.”

Let’s remember these words not just on Unity Day, not just on Rosh Hashanah, not just during times when we all agree, but especially during the times we disagree, times like this summer.    

No matter what type of Jew you are, An Etrog, a Willow, a Myrtle, or a Lulav, we all share the same heart, and we need each other to be more whole.


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