Rabbi Yuval Keren – 28th October 2020
“Lech l’cha, go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1
You need a great deal of courage to leave everything behind and start a new way: your daily routines; the cherished possessions you could not pack into a suitcase; your family, friends and the relationships you built with people over the years; and your prejudices and fixed ideas you had about the world. This is what Abraham had to deal with when he listened to the Divine voice and left his father’s house to an unknown place where he would have to start again and rebuild his life.
Armed with the Divine promise to inherit the land, Abraham took his family, his possessions, and set off to the land God promised him as a possession. Yet, despite the Divine promise, Abraham is far from acting as if the land belongs to him. He does not build a stone house as soon as he arrives. He “pitched his tents” and he travels back and forth in the Negev. When famine breaks in the land he does not wait for the fulfilment of the Divine promise. Rather, he goes down to Egypt to find some food.
When a quarrel breaks out between his shepherds and Lot’s, Abraham immediately works on a compromise agreement that will solve the problem. “The whole land is before us. Let us separate: if you go left, I will go right”.
Abraham is the one welcoming strangers outside his tent, even at the time he is still sick and hurt. He is the one who pleads to God for the people of Sodom. In the process he is trying to save Lot and the entire city from total annihilation.
When Sarah dies and Abraham needs to bury her, Abraham, for the first time, breaks away from his nomad life. He is willing to purchase the cave of Machpelah for a small fortune so that he can buy a burial cave. Abraham does not even try to bring down the inflated price. Divine promise or not, the land needs to be purchased and earned, and Abraham remains honest in his dealing with his family, with the locals, and with the stranger. The reason Abraham remains so is because he knows that he himself is a stranger. He also knows that his offspring be “strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.” It is Abraham’s sense of stranger that made him kind and considerate to all around him.
My parents felt strangers in the places where they grew up. They left everything behind to settle in the Promised Land. For my father it was a close-call with death. He was the only survivor from his family because he left on time. My mother had to make her own ‘Lech l’cha’ after the local population became hostile towards their local Jews. They came to Israel where they had to learn a new language, absorb a new culture, and rebuild their lives.
I grew up in Israel with a lesser sense of a stranger. After all, I was born into the culture and spoke the language. Yet, later in my life I also became a stranger when I made my choice of settling in Britain. I too had to learn a new language, absorb a new culture and get use to the rain. Yet, I have never let go of my old identity and, as a stranger, I see myself as having multiple identities.
This week we will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the murder of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Like me, and many others in Israel, Rabin’s family came from a different land. Rabin, the Sabra, was different. He was a man of the land, a military man, who did more than most to establish a solid Jewish home in the land where Abraham roamed as a nomad. Until his death in 1995, he was there in many of Israel’s significant historical junctions: The War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai operation, the Six Day War.
Yet, like Abraham, Rabin remembered that we are all strangers in a strange land. Like Abraham and Lot, this great military warrior understood very well that the long-term solution could not be more arms and a greater military might. The solution was the peaceful parting of the way, by “going left if you go right, and by going right if you go left.”
Yet there were elements among the population in Israel who did not believe in this way. They wanted to hang-on to every grain of sand of the land promised to Abraham. They forgot that sand does not stay put. They forgot that even Abraham, and all generations after him, were nomads who lived in tents. They were willing to kill and be killed if only they could hang on to Abraham’s burial place, while Abraham, the nomad, would have chosen to pitch his tent elsewhere if it brought peace and saved life. Those who murdered Rabin did not simply kill a person. With this murder they tried to assassinate the hope that his way represented to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Twenty-five years ago, I believed that the Israeli society would engage in cheshbon nefesh – self-criticism, and change their ways. Yet the current political climate is a bad indication that the assassins were partly successful. Rather than strive for the resolution and reconciliation with the Palestinians, the current government is busy purchasing more sophisticated arms. Even the recent peace agreements with other Arab countries in the areas (and ignore the Palestinian issue) are more about arms deals than they are about peace. There are even serious allegations that much of the recent corruption in high places in Israel are connected to arms deals.
For me it is time to learn again from Abraham’s Lech L’cha. It is time for Israelis and the Palestinians to come out of our comfort zone and make the difficult and painful journey to the Promised Land, a land promised to both nations. It is time for separation, and for going left if you go right. It is time for Israelis to remember to love the stranger, for we were all strangers in the land of Egypt, and in Morocco, and in Germany. It is time for Israelis, both at the top and at grassroots level, to remember the devastating impact of incitement and hate speeches on the unity and integrity of the People, and reject those who promote incitement. It is time to take example from Abraham and Rabin, and lech l’cha peace-wards.
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