Friday, July 25, 2014

Shelter - and one day, Peace as well - D'var Torah - Parashat (Portion) Mas'ei - July 25, 2014

Throughout this week, I have participated in the Las Cruces Peace Camp program.
Yesterday, as I left for another meeting in the early afternoon, after being at camp since the morning,  I told one of the staff - "thank you, I am going back to my civilian rabbi life."
  Of course, what I was doing there was as rabbinic as any other educational work that I do at Temple or in other community organizations.
But something felt different about this week.
As I read my fill this morning of articles about the war in Gaza, I realized that Peace Camp felt to me like a safe bubble or haven where I could gain a respite from the turmoil in the world and talk about peace and building a better world with a feeling of hope.
I was grateful for my daily flight into idealism, which included discussions about constructive conflict resolution and gaining a sense for how to understand how people live in various parts of the world.
It wasn't all idealism, though - anytime that we create community among a group of people, we form a microcosm of real life in which we have to get along.  
   As we know, Israel is one country with an increasingly diverse community politically and culturally that still finds common ground rather easily. 
   I was fascinated by the report of a July 12 demonstration against the war in Gaza by Israelis on the left at Habima Square in Tel Aviv.    Right wing counter demonstrators were right there with them, shouting at them whatever slogans they could muster. 
Then the sirens sounded.
Then they all went to a MIKLAT - a shelter - together. 
Yes, right-wing and left wing Israelis - in a shelter – together, suspended their conflict for a moment as they sought refuge from the common existential threat from Hamas.
    Once the all clear was sounded, they went back up to the square and resumed their positions, shouting at each other in disagreement once again.
For a moment, the shelter - the MIKLAT - was not only a haven and refuge from rockets.  It was also a place where these Israelis automatically, almost unconsciously, set aside their differences.  
   In the Torah reading for this week in Numbers Chapter 35, we read about six ancient cities, each 

called an IR MIKLAT, a city of refuge, in which a priest would reside in order to provide sanctuary for a person who unintentionally killed another.  His - or her - life would automatically be sought after by the victim’s relative, known as the GOEL HADAM - the blood avenger.  In the ancient world, the goal was to keep a balance between the families, and justice could only be set right when someone died on each side - except in this case where there was no hatred and no intention to take a life. The person who had accidentally committed the killing had to stay in that city.  That town was a place of safety, a MIKLAT, a shelter, keeping the hatred of the victim's relative from touching him or her.   The death of the High Priest of the city would provide the restoration of the balance, perhaps because of the communal respect for the priest himself that would supersede any other considerations in the community.   Blood vengeance would fall by the wayside at such a time of city-wide mourning.
    In recent weeks, conflicts in the world have affected not only citizens of countries but also, tragically, people flying above them.   Some cities in Europe that we would think are safe for Jews are havens no more, as demonstrations against Israel's actions target Jews and their synagogues.  A store owner in Belgium put up a sign that said dogs were allowed but not "Zionists."  Due to the actions of ISIS, Christians in Mosul, Iraq are threatened if they don’t convert to Islam.  People have become hostages to their own community members or victims of violence of their fellow citizens who hold extreme ideologies and seek to grab power through punishing innocent bystanders.  

     I suppose that is why I was glad that Peace Camp happened this week. I went back for the closing session this afternoon, singing several songs about peace. For us, in our sanctuary, right here, may we think about all that we have prayed about peace during this Shabbat Service, and may the hope we recite each week come to fruition:  May the one who makes peace in the highest heavens make peace for us, for all Israel, and for all the world, and let us say Amen. 

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