Vayakhel-Pekudei March 18th, 2023
This week’s Torah reading starts with a commonly used phrase — that Moses assembled or gathered the entire congregation of the children of Israel. His purpose, of course, was to communicate clearly with a single voice the next thing that this new nation was to do, and then the next and the next. In those gatherings, there was a clarity of purpose and a common understanding of what it would take to establish a healthy nation.
Sadly, this Israel of old is not Israel today. Our news cycles are filled with stories about troubling new Israeli legislation, criticism of the bills, and protests on the streets of Israel. At the same time, I am hearing from Israeli leaders and from our own Reform advocacy group, ARZA Canada who are asking all spiritual leaders to pass on their deepest concerns to our own communities.
Last Sunday, I heard their message in stereo. Shlomo Weinish, an Israeli advocate who trains Israeli leaders in the process of consensus-based decision-making, spoke in Winnipeg about the three-pronged internal attack on Israeli democracy by three small, narrow, self-interested groups who somehow hold the balance of power in government. He described the right-wing ultra-nationalist parties who want to expand Israel far beyond its current borders without judicial constraints; ultra-religious parties who have little regard for human rights protections of equality of women; the LGBTQ2+ communities who are again frustrated by judicial constraint; and an Israeli prime minister wishing to override the criminal prosecutions launched against him.
Later that day, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke on CNN and listed exactly the same three points. At the same time, half a million Israelis took to the streets in a similar protest. These were not issues during their last election and there is a sense of profound betrayal all across Israel.
The Torah reminds us that gathering and assembling create a space for discovering, sharing and celebrating common values. It allows for differences of opinion, but it is like a rainbow or a painting where the many different colours somehow offer a sense of harmony, something that is pleasing to the eye, physically and spiritually.
What is happening in Israel is not that. It is toxic and chaotic, and it smells bad, not just to us but to the rest of the world as well. Our Israeli friends are not embarrassed to tell us how angry they are and how fearful they are about the future of their own country. They love Israel, but not what they are doing. They want us to be angry and to speak up as well, to speak to the values that defined Israel long ago and again as a modern state in 1948.
This is my small part. I hope that they/we get this right, for all our sakes.