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Cantorial Comment - Parshat Chaye Sarah                          November 23, 2019 - 25 Cheshvan 5780

11/21/2019 04:54:49 PM


 “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution.  It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.”

 ​​​​--Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Danish quantum physicist

 This week, we may have just seen the end of the Two-State Solution, and for the first time in my lifetime, this makes me truly afraid for both Israel and world Jewry.

On Monday, the US announced that it will no longer regard the Israeli settlements as “illegal”, which, at first glance seems like a welcome point scored for Team Israel.  It comes off initially as a moral victory that is more about technical definitions and labels than anything practical, a symbolic win for the Jewish people akin to the US formally recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.  However, a more careful consideration of this most recent development reveals that it very well may have a real and significant impact on the delicate status quo.  I believe that this change is about to set us on an ominous and frightening path that, as time goes on, will become harder to turn back from.

Growing up, I was taught that as a modern and militarily strong state, Israel’s pathway to peace depended on walking a precarious line between defending itself to insure its own security and peace negotiations with the Palestinian people in an effort to find a long-term solution to the ongoing refugee crisis.  I learned that unlike other countries, the Israeli military is a moral military, bound as much by the Jewish values of the sanctity of life, human dignity, and righteousness as by the mandate to protect Israel by the necessary use of force.  I trusted in a peace process that whether or not it would be achieved in my lifetime, it was a process that required removing hatred from the curriculum of children, land negotiations in good faith, and a commitment to non-violence.  But what would this idealized middle-eastern society of the future look like?  Would it be one unified state or two, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side by side?  These questions were typically left unanswered because neither way seemed livable for either side.  With a two-state solution, Israel would be forced to endure an ever-increasing security threat from Palestinian extremist groups, able to operate safely outside of Israel’s reach.  With a one-state solution, Palestinians would effectively become ethnically discriminated non-voting Israelis, a situation which would force us to concede the moral high-ground to those who today are unconscionably claiming that Israel is an apartheid state.

So which is it to be?  Do we advocate today for a two-state solution where Israel remains under constant threat, or a one-state solution in which Israel sacrifices its integrity?  Neither answer is very comforting and so, the status quo has remained which, even though it too is uncomfortable, at least we all agree that it is temporary.  Now, though, the latest change in US policy may have forced us down the road of the one-state solution, and we will be forced to endure the consequences of it.  By declaring that the settlements are no longer illegal, the US has opened up a new avenue for cash flow to Israel towards sponsoring settlement development.  In Toronto, we know all too well about the rising prices of urban development, and many young people are forced to live in Aurora, Sudbury, and other more remote areas of Ontario in order to find affordable housing, and this is also the case in Israel.  The Israeli government builds subsidized housing in the settlement communities for those Israelis who are unable to afford homes but until now, due to the “illegality” of the settlements, funding could not come directly from sponsors in the US for these projects.   As the gates are now open with the full blessing of the US government, we could see rapid settlement expansion into more territory that Palestinians perceive should be part of a future Palestinian state.  More expansion means that a Palestinian state is less and less likely, thus further removing the Two-State Solution from the realm of possibility.

Our parsha this week is Chayey Sarah, meaning “the life of Sarah”.  Ironically, by the second verse of our reading, Sarah has died.  Why must we begin our parsha this way, especially considering the title?  It has been a long week, but we must recall how last week’s parsha ended, with the binding of Isaac.  If we had concluded last week’s reading two verses later, the reason that Sarah died becomes apparent.  Sarah died of grief over Abraham’s near murder of their only son.  The story of the Akeda (Binding of Isaac) is perhaps the most difficult story in the entire Tanach.  It is difficult because we find ourselves placed in a morally ambiguous scenario; do we admire Abraham for his commitment to God, or do we feel sick over how Abraham could even think to sacrifice his son?  The answer is a very uncomfortably murky middle in which we hesitate to fully throw our weight behind either answer.  We hesitate because we’re waiting, hoping that a better answer will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we debate the issues, searching, hoping to find a better solution, remembering all the while, that whichever way we choose, there are serious moral consequences that must be brought to bear.

Shabbat Shalom,

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780