Sermon – Parshat Emor

Stuck In The Middle With You


Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Emor is about the rules that apply to the Kohen, the priests who would officiate in the Mishkan/Temple. All the Children of Israel are holy, but the Kohanim are set aside as being at a higher level then Israelites who are not of priestly descent. This meant that there were things a priest just could not do. He (and yes it was always he) could not attend funerals except for very close family members. There were restrictions of who he could marry, what he could eat, when he should bathe and when he was permitted to officiate.

While there are many controversial regulations for the Kohanim, the one that struck me this week was the rule that a Kohen who was physically blemished, from something as simple as a missing finger or a broken arm or if he were blind, lame or a hunchback, all of these would exempt him from service in the Mishkan. Today, we do not consider these blemishes as “handicaps” and we consider it a religious obligation not to deny the handicapped a chance to show what they are capable of doing.

But in ancient times, one did not bring something with a blemish before God. This meant that a priest could not appear if he had a disqualifying blemish. It was also forbidden to bring an animal that had a blemish before God to be sacrificed. Both the sacrificial animal and the one who was sacrificing had to be free of all disqualifying blemishes.

Sunday is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day in the counting of the Omer. It is a rather strange day and we are not really sure why it is set aside from all the other days of the Omer. Over the centuries, it has become attached to the stories of the rebellion against Rome by the Jews of Israel. How that rebellion began, has to do with what we have learned in this week’s Parsha

It is said that the story of the destruction of Jerusalem began with a party. A certain man had a party and he wanted to invite his friend Kamtza, but not his enemy, Bar Kamtza. But the invitations were mixed up and Bar Kamtza came to the party. The man wanted to throw him out and to prevent embarrassment Bar Kamtza begged to be allowed to stay. He even offered to pay for the entire party. The man picked him up and threw him out. Nobody came to Bar Kamtza’s defense and so he decided to inform against the Jews to Caesar. He told Caesar that the Jews were rebelling and he could prove it. He said that the Jews would not sacrifice an animal that came from Rome. To test this, the Emperor sent a beautiful animal to be sacrificed. On the way Bar Kamtza made a very minor blemish on the animal, one that would make it treif for the Jews but not for the Romans.

The Sages, when they saw the blemish, were going to allow the animal anyway since they wanted to have good relations with the Roman government but the super pious Rabbi Zacharia protested saying, “People will claim that we sacrifice blemished animals.” The animal was turned away, Ceasar assumed it was because they were rebelling and the army was sent to destroy Jerusalem.

Some days I have a hard time trying to decide who is the real villain in this story. Is it the informer, Bar Kamtza or is it Rabbi Zecharia who, in trying to be so pious, brought about the destruction of the Temple, the city and the nation? I keep thinking of this story as I listen to Jews today who try to make any sense out of the relationship between the United States and Israel. In a similar way, it is hard to tell who the villain is in this story. I don’t think it is America nor do I blame Israel. But there are those who say they love Israel who are doing more to bring about the destruction of the Jewish state under the guise of piety patriotism.

Negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are really not very different from the negotiations between Israel and the United States under any administration, Israeli or American. The United States would like to see peace in the Middle East. And I really believe that Israel desires peace with her neighbors. But there are some here in the USA and some Jews in Israel who would not like to see peace, so they spread lies and half truths, informing one side against the other and acting so pious that someone should suggest that America or Israel compromise for peace. Let me make one thing crystal clear. One does not make peace with enemies by standing on principles. If there is to be peace, it will come because both sides have compromised and both sides have made concessions.

That said, let me share some compromises that will eventually have to be made. If you look at a map of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the legal and the illegal ones, you will see that if the Palestinians hope to have a country some day, there will be settlements that will have to be dismantled. That is a fact. There will not be enough land to do anything in the West Bank unless some of the settlements are torn down. To continue to permit these settlements to grow, will not only sabotage any possibility of peace, but it will endanger the lives of Israeli soldiers who must be deployed to defend these Jews who are only interested in their own political statements and not the welfare of the entire state. Why should all of Israel suffer because there are fanatics who believe that the West Bank should never be traded for peace? What we will have to give up and what we will be able to keep will eventually be decided by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States wants to see those talks begin; America really has no interest at all in what is decided between them. America does care about what fanatics are doing to undermine the possibility of peace.

If someone were to break into your home and barricade himself in your spare bedroom and then want to negotiate so he can stay, that is absurd. For Jews to buy land in Jerusalem so that it will be impossible to share the city with the Palestinians is equally absurd. American money is being sent to Israel to buy up this land so it can be given to Jews and to push the Arabs out of areas of Jerusalem that they have lived in for centuries. The latest scam is to buy the land and say that Arabs will be living there and when the housing is improved, Jewish settlers move it. They then dare the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality to throw them out. These are not the actions of people who want peace. These are actions of people who don’t care if Israel goes to war again.

To these people, if the United States, Europe or any other country want to bring about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, then they must be discredited at all costs. Every disagreement between Israel and other nations is blown way out of proportion. I read this week that President Obama walked out on Prime Minister Netanyahu and left him “stewing” for two hours in the White House because Obama did not respect the Israeli Prime Minister.

I challenge anyone to find any record of such a snub in any mainstream press account. I make that challenge because I know it to be a lie. Any decent newspaper, American and Israeli, reported at the time that Obama and Netanyahu met long into the night over the issue of building in the Arab sections of Jerusalem. When it was clear that they were at an impasse, Obama ended the session for the evening. Netanyahu’s staff asked if they could remain in the building while they considered the final proposal. Obama’s staff permitted them to stay. Two hours later, they notified the White House staff that they had a new proposal that they wished to share with President Obama. Obama, who was getting ready for bed, came back and met further with Netanyahu. They still could not agree on a compromise and so they quit for the night. That is how the New York Times reported the encounter the next day. It was presented as evidence that both sides were ready to do all that was necessary to find a solution. It was not to be. That is how political compromises work.

It is no secret that Israel and the United States do not see eye to eye on what needs to be done to bring peace between Israel and her neighbors. Israel has political realities that Netanyahu cannot ignore. The United States must press Israel on these issues if there are to be any negotiations. But Obama has political realities he has to face. Israel has many strong supporters in Congress and in the American public. There are good and important strategic ties between Israel and the United States. The United States is not about to “sell out” Israel. If the United States can live with a corrupt Afghanistan government, then our country will not turn our backs on Israel which is the only really stable democracy in the Middle East. We certainly will never sell out Israel to a corrupt, unstable Palestinian government nor will they turn Israel over to Hamas terrorists. Diplomacy is not a game for the faint of heart.

The left also has it fanatics. Divestiture of Israel and university snubs also undermine peace efforts. Israel may not be a perfect state, but it is a long way from Apartheid. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is not responsible for the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The fact of peace in Israel has no impact at all on the fate of American troops serving overseas. Israel has de facto peace with almost all her neighbors and terrorists may try to disrupt those relationships, but the course of these negotiations will have little impact on worldwide terrorism nor will it stop the spread of radical Islam. Selling out Israel in fact, would make all of these problems more severe.

The Israeli government has some difficult decisions to make if it wishes to make peace and end this constant state of war. There is pressure from the left and the right to undermine any attempt at making a lasting peace. Should we sacrifice anything for peace? 2100 years ago a Sage embarrassed the Sages into turning away an animal that had a minor blemish for a sacrifice that could have saved the Temple and Jerusalem. There will be sacrifices this time for peace. For a real and lasting peace. Yitzhak Rabin understood this and these same Jewish elements cried out for his blood and celebrated his assassination. We can expect Israel not to give one inch of compromise for anything short of a real and lasting peace. And we can expect that the United States will do all it can to insure that Israel will have the peace that She deserves. That road may be rocky and there will be many bumps and bruises along the way. We need to be supportive of Israel as she has to make the difficult decisions about settlements, about Jerusalem and about what needs to be done to bring about peace.

President Obama is not our enemy. Secretary of State Clinton is not our enemy. Our enemy is anyone who acts with malice to prevent peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It certainly includes Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Al Qaeda. It may also include militant Israelis who place their own agenda over the needs of Israel’s government and citizens. It may also include those who are trying to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States, who have a long history of close ties and common bonds. I warn all the Jews of America, let us not fall in line with the wrong side.

May God keep Israel Strong, Safe and Secure and may her government be free to do what it must to bring peace to all her cities speedily and soon. Amen

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