‘Bereshit Bara Elohim,’ in the beginning God created (Gen. 1:1,)… this is how our Torah begins. This is where the Torah, which we have begun to read again this week, starts. And here we are, witnessing the birth of a new world that emerged on Saturday, October 7, 2023. At the beginning of the Book of Books, it is written, ‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ and that’s how the world awoke just a week ago. A ‘Tohu Vavohu,’ a state of chaos and confusion, reigned over the State of Israel. It was a Fauda, literal chaos. No one understood what was happening. Hours and days later, we realized what the true ‘Tehom,’ the abyss, meant. Days later, we understood that we had all borne witness to the worst pogrom since the Holocaust, and in some cases, it was even worse.
This week, humanity descended into the ‘Tehom,’ into the abyss. And there lie 1,300 Israelis – infants in their cribs, elders on benches, young people on open dance floors. The gates of the ‘Tehom’ opened, and Hamas terrorists kidnapped more than 150 people, from babies to Holocaust survivors and took them there with the rest of the palestinian people in Gaza.
In the beginning, on the first day of creation, everything was darkness, disorder, and abyss. On that day, God decided to create light and separate light from darkness. As the hours passed, a significant portion of the Western world truly recognized the children of light and the children of darkness. What Jewish communities worldwide have been advocating for years, and what many governments and various organizations’ activists preferred to ignore, has come to light. This is not a war between two peoples; this is a war between light and darkness, between good and evil. Israel is not fighting Palestine and Palestinians, but rather the children of darkness, Hamas (Imach Shemam), and its allies. In the first few hours of total confusion, coupled with the gruesome images emerging, rays of light began to appear. Soldiers of the IDF, reservists, rapid response units from kibbutzim heroically started defending against the children of darkness, taking down more than 1,500 terrorists on Israeli territory and preventing the kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis. And thus, God separated light from darkness, Israel from Islamist terrorism. As the first few hours of utter bewilderment passed, coupled with the horrendous images that kept surfacing, rays of light began to appear. IDF soldiers, reservists, and kibbutz rapid response units courageously started to fend off the children of darkness, neutralizing over 1,500 terrorists on Israeli soil and thwarting the kidnapping of numerous Israelis.
And so, ‘Or Jadash Al Tzion Tair venizke kulanu meheira Leoro,’ ‘Bring a new light upon the land of Israel, and may we all merit its radiance,’ we pray every morning; and this past Saturday was no exception. A new light will shine in this world enveloped by darkness; this is our hope.
There are numerous parallels in Parashat Bereshit that we could use to explain this tragedy. Allow me to share a few that came to my mind over the past few days:
The Beginning of the Torah and the Land of Israel: Genesis 1:1, the first verse of the entire Hebrew Bible, and Rashí’s interpretation made over a thousand years ago have incredible relevance in the current context. Rashí asks, ‘Why does the Torah begin with the account of the creation of the world and not with the departure of the people of Israel from Egypt and the giving of the first Mitzvot (commandments)?’ To this, he responds by quoting a medieval Midrash, saying, ‘For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan,” Israel may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased.”’ Dear friends, over a thousand years ago, our sages, prophetically, said that some would claim that the Jews stole the land of Israel, either from the Canaanite nations or the Palestinians. Without delving into theological debates, which lead nowhere, as each one can justify their claims with their sacred texts, the message here is clear for us: the Jewish people did not steal the land from anyone. You, today, are part of the IDF, soldiers of Israel and ambassadors of the Jewish people, bringing clarification where there is misinformation. For over three thousand years, there has been an uninterrupted Jewish presence in the land of Israel. Israel is not a ‘fabrication of 19th-century European Jews.’ Israel is the national and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, where millions of Jews returned after being expelled for generations. As Jews, we have full rights over the land of Israel; let us not bow our heads and not engage in the discourse of antisemites, who, eighty years ago in Europe, were shouting, ‘Jews to Palestine,’ and today are shouting, ‘Jews out of Palestine.’ Every people have the right to self-determination, and the ancient land of Israel is the only place where our people can and should thrive. We don’t seek all the land; we don’t aim to return to biblical Israel; there is no expansionist spirit. Jews and Israelis know that there should also be a place for Palestinians in the region, but we’re not going anywhere. The land is our land too!
Adam, Eve, and Lack of Accountability: I am a believer in peace, and I am an ardent admirer of every people and culture. Personally, I love Arab and Muslim culture in general – their flavors, melodies, the streets of their suks (open-air markets), calligraphy, and history. I consider myself an Arab Jew; my paternal grandparents hail from Syria, and the meals of my childhood are indistinguishable from any Syrian-Lebanese restaurant. The melodies of the Jewish prayers that move me the most originate in the Levant. I know the glorious history of the Muslim Golden Age when the Christian world of Europe was mired in obscurantism and the Arab lands produced poets, philosophers, and scientists. I do not lump all Muslims, Palestinians, or Arabs together, and I know that not all of them want war or support Hamas. But it is time to stop being indulgent with the Arab-Muslim world and demand that a voice calling for peace, respect, and tolerance emerges from them. It is time for Palestinians to stop behaving like Adam and Eve, with Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent, and take responsibility for their actions. Not every Palestinian supports Hamas, but in Gaza, over 60% of them support and accept armed and terrorist conflict. Around the world, we have not seen a single group of Palestinians or Arab Muslims taking to the streets with banners to condemn Hamas’s massacre and advocating for peace and prosperity for their Palestinian brothers in Gaza. What we have witnessed is Palestinians in New York with swastikas, Palestinians in Australia shouting, ‘Gas the Jews,’ violent demonstrations throughout Europe calling for the annihilation of Israel and celebrating Hamas terrorism. From the depths of my heart, I know that neither Arab nor Muslim culture necessarily leads to terrorism or radical Islamism, but much of that world, by action or omission, has been co-opted by fanaticism and fundamentalism. It is imperative that Palestinians and well-intentioned Arab and Muslim individuals be the first to condemn these acts of terror. They are grown, mature; it is time for them to stop blaming Israel, the West, the United States, and modern European imperialism.
Cain and the First Murder in History: In this very Parashá, we find the first murder in humanity. One brother killed another. And there, the Torah tells us, God reprimanded Cain, saying, ‘The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground’ (Genesis 4:10). This week, the blood of more than 1,300 Israelis and free citizens of the world cries out from the ground. The Talmud emphasizes, ‘the bloods,’ that the murderers of Hamas not only killed 1,300 souls but also all their future descendants: ‘He who destroys a single life destroys an entire world’ (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a). There are 1,300 worlds that were cut short just a week ago. But death does not end there. It is now Israel’s turn to bring death. Deaths, except for the terrorists, that we do not seek. In the coming weeks, we will undoubtedly see horrific images of Palestinians in Gaza dying due to Israeli airstrikes as they try to eliminate Hamas terrorists from the face of the earth. No Israeli or Jew wishes for the death of innocent children. That blood on our hands will also be on the hands of Hamas for prohibiting their population from relocating when the IDF warns of an impending airstrike and also on Egypt for barely allowing people to cross the border with Gaza. However, it will be our young people in the IDF who will pull the trigger, and that trauma will remain forever. As Shmuel HaNaguid, a Jewish poet and military commander of a Muslim army (!) in the 10th century, once said, ‘War, at the beginning, is like a beautiful lady with whom everyone wants to flirt. In the end, it is like a despised witch bringing tears and sadness to whomever meets her.’ I know that here, everyone is thirsty for revenge, and for many of us, compassion has nearly disappeared from our hearts. I have seen pacifist Jews turned into champions of total destruction of Gaza. Let us remember that war, while necessary, also diminishes us all to some extent. Golda Meir said over 50 years ago, ‘Perhaps I can forgive the Arabs for killing our children at some point, but I will never forgive them for making our children kill theirs.’ A war, probably protracted and painful in Gaza, is necessary to finally eradicate this cancer once and for all, but let us always remember the words of Jacob before meeting his brother Esau: ‘he was afraid and distressed,’ to which Rashí commented and interpreted, ‘he was afraid of dying and distressed at the thought of having to kill.’
Order in Creation: In Genesis, God is the creator of order within chaos. His task in creation is to organize the cosmos. This is now our task as well. Last Saturday, everything was chaos. As the days pass, I believe that Israel and the IDF will gradually, albeit with great pain and suffering, bring order to a turbulent region. We cannot yet use the phrase that is repeated again and again in the first verses of the Torah, ‘And God saw that it was good.’ Difficult days lie ahead, days when we must renew our faith, push our emotions to the limit. We may not see the good, but let us have faith that it will eventually come. It may take months or years, but there will come a time when we can look back and say, ‘And it was good.’ With sorrow, tears, anger over all the innocent victims and spilled blood, the only thing that fills me with hope these days is that order will finally arrive. It will be the last abyss that Israel has known, and hopefully, the West will open its eyes and continue to support the State of Israel without conditions, as it has done this past week. I hope that well-intentioned Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims who desire peace will open their eyes and assume responsibility by advocating for peaceful coexistence in the region. I hope that the State of Israel will remain a light among nations and, despite the pain, will not seek vengeance and continue to behave as ethically as possible during the war. And I hope that our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel can finally experience true peace.
The days will come when the prophecies of Isaiah will come true, where peoples ‘shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’ (Isaiah 2:4). But for this dream to see the light of day, we must first remember the words of wise King Solomon, who said, ‘There is a time for war, and a time for peace’ (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Although I know that you all share my pacifist spirit, our people learned long ago not to ‘turn the other cheek.’ Our people learned that only we can take our destiny into our hands and not allow ourselves to be slaughtered. Today is not the time for peace but the time for war, a time to battle on the ground and on social media to ensure, once and for all, the security of Israel’s borders and every Jew in the world.
May God protect our soldiers of Israel, bring back alive the kidnapped, heal the wounded, and secure victory for the light over darkness.
Am Israel Chai and specially today: Shabbat Shalom, a Shabbat of peace in our hearts and a Shabbat of peace in the streets of Israel.