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A Taste of Torah: Weekly Commentary from the JTS Community

Parashat Vaet'hanan 5765
Shabbat Nahamu
Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
August 20, 2005    15 Av 5765

This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS

This week witnessed a historic and painful moment in the history of Modern Israel the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip. As many commentators have pointed out, this was the first time since 1967 that Israel has withdrawn unilaterally from territories occupied in the Six Day War. While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledged the profound national trauma of uprooting families living in the Gaza Strip, he gave voice to the reality of the situation. Sharon declared, "this act is essential for Israel. Believe me, the pain I feel with this act is the full realisation that we must do it. We cannot hold onto Gaza forever; more than a million Palestinians live there&crowded in refugee camps, poverty and hotbeds of hatred with no hope on the horizon." Israel's gesture is one of pragmatic and moral leadership in the world community. As such, the timing of disengagement dovetails well with both our Torah reading this week, Parashat Va-ethannan and with our haftarah taken from the words of Isaiah.

Deuteronomy 4:6 urges us to observe Torah faithfully, "for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples who on hearing of all these laws will say, 'Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.'" Disengagement from Gaza allows the State of Israel and the Jewish people to live up to the highest ideals of not oppressing the stranger in our midst and becoming an or l'goyim, light unto the nations." Moreover, as Prime Minister Sharon pointed out in his address to the Israeli nation, it is an issue of pikuah nefesh, saving lives. Land is not the ultimate value in Judaism; life is u'vharta ba'hayyim, and "you shall choose life." Appropos of the Torah's comment, Israel's Ambassor to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman said, "It is time for the United Nations to acknowledge Israel's actions. We hope that in the United Nations there will be no more business as usual as far as the Middle East is concerned&. No more Israel-bashing, no more ongoing resolutions which keep repeating themselves time after time." Indeed, we hope and pray that the nations of the world will come to respect Israel and the Jewish people and recognize Israel for its gumption in promoting efforts toward achieving peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people.

Similary, this coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nahamu Shabbat of Consolation. This Shabbat takes its title from the words attributed to the prophet Isaiah written around the time of the people's return to Eretz Yisrael (538 BCE) after the destruction of the First Temple. Isaiah 40 opens, "Comfort, oh comfort (nahamu, nahamu) My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of warfare if over, that her iniquity is expiated." I could not think of more appropriate words to punctuate this fateful period in Israel's history. Just as Cyrus' magnanimous permission for the people to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild offered them hope at a time of despair, so, too, does Israel's disenagement offer hope to the Jewish people. For far too long, the Israeli people neglected values that stand at the core of a Jewish homeland education of Israel's youth and economic assistance to those living in poverty. We hope and pray that this is the time to rebuild Jerusalem, to invest in the domestic infrastructure of Israeli society, and to reassemble a peace that was torn asunder by mistrust and terrorism. We pray that the time of warfare is truly over and that we, as our ancestors, can be comforted by a painful, yet mature decision of Medinat Yisrael.

With hopes for peace and comfort.

Shabbat shalom.

Matthew Berkowitz

The publication and distribution of "A Taste of Torah" commentary have been made possible by a generous gift from Sam and Marilee Susi.