Parashat D’varim

Parashat Devarim/Shabbat Hazon
by Rabbi Aryeh Meir

‘These are the words that Moses addressed to all
Israel on the other side of the Jordan – . . . in
the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this
Teaching (Torah). He said: The Lord our God spoke
to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough
at this mountain. Start out and make your way to
the hill country . . . Go, take possession of the
land that the Lord swore to your fathers. . .’

With these words, Moses sets the stage for the rest
of the history of Israel. In these culminating
speeches that are the content of this last of the
five books of the Torah, Moses urges a reluctant
nation to realize its destiny. They have been
wandering in the Sinai wilderness for almost forty
years, going round and round the mountain called
Sinai, unable to move forward and inherit the
promised land. They encountered obstacles that,
time and time again, served as excuses for turning
back, for returning to Egypt.

Now, with the promised land within sight, Moses has
to muster up every ounce of strength to give the
nation the inspiration and the courage necessary to
possess the land. He knows that the conquest of
Canaan will not be easy. There will be enemies to
contend with. He knows that Israel will be killing
others and that many of his nation will die. The
parashah concludes with these words: ‘Do not
fear them, for it is the Lord your God who will
battle for you.’

Today (July 17, 2006) is the sixth day of the war against Hezbollah (‘the Party of God’). That fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group is committed to ongoing war against Israel with the goal of destroying the Jewish state and replacing it with an Islamic state. Fifty-eight years after its founding as an independent Jewish state, Israel continues to fight for its existence. As I write these lines, Hezbollah missiles are landing in cities and
towns all over northern Israel. A million Israelis are sleeping in bomb shelters. The people of Israel are being terrorized by this Islamic ‘party of God’ that has sworn to destroy its only homeland. Who is the god that this ‘party of God’ listens to? Is it possible that Allah wants the state of Israel to be destroyed while the God of Israel says no?

That this conflict clearly shows, more than any
previous Arab-Israeli war is that this conflict is
about religious ideology. Israel may not be a
religious state, but it is a Jewish state. And in
the view of fundamentalist Islamic teaching, it
cannot be allowed to exist within the territory of
Islamic hegemony. In that view there is no room for
a Jewish state, regardless of how small. Islam must
control all of the territory conquered in its early
centuries. These territories can never revert back
to their previous owners. Eretz Yisrael was
conquered by Islamic forces in the Seventh Century,
and therefore, it is forever part of Islam.

But there are also moderate forces within the
Arabic/Islamic world, forces that can make peace
with the reality of a Jewish state in the Middle
East. There are religious and political leaders who
speak a different language, one of tolerance and
acceptance, with a recognition of the historical
truth of the Jewish claim to the Land and of the
Jewish contribution to the birth of Islam. The
voices of these moderate Arab and Islamic leaders
are drowned out by the hatred and vituperation of
the Islamists.

In his commentary on the parashah, the Sefat Emet writes: ‘Every creature teaches us something; there is a way to learn from each of them the glory and the will of God.” This is the song that lies within each creature. In the future, when all is redeemed, God’s glory shall be raised up from within all tongues. But for now ‘the tongue is mute,’ so covered by corporeality that the
inwardness hidden within it cannot be seen. The redemption of all tongues shall come about through he power of the holy tongue given to Israel. Thus Scripture says: ‘he explained (be’er) the Torah,’ in seventy languages. This is also the meaning of ‘These are the words that Moses spoke . . . in the desert, in the plain, facing Suf,
between Paran and . . .’ (Deut. 1:1). All those places were far from the holiness, and Moses created openings, gates of Torah, in each one of them, something like what will be in the future.’

Here the Sefat Emet is teaching that all the
nations worship God, ‘each in their own distinctive
way but as part of the universal chorus.’ (Arthur
Green). Our task is to try to find the true word of
God in the languages and cultures of other faith
communities and to encourage them to find the true
word of God in our faith tradition.

The task of every lover of peace is to find a way to
reach out to those moderate Muslims with whom
dialogue is still possible and to find some common
language that can bind us together. We share much
with Islam and we need to find a way to make them
understand that Israel is our ancient homeland, our
only homeland and that Israel is ready to live in
peace with those who would live in peace with it.
We ‘children of Abraham’ must find a way to get
beyond the hatred and violence and make a ‘brit
‘ a covenant of peace for the sake of all
our people and for generations to come.