This sermon was given by Rabbi Charles Wallach at Bournemouth Reform Synagogue on Shabbat 1st August 2014.
Though each Shabbat is special, this one is filled with more than the usual. This Shabbat we commence reading the fifth and final Book of the Torah – the Book of Deuteronomy. That of itself is noteworthy, but not earth shattering.
In the Jewish calendar, this Shabbat is significant too because it comes but a few days before Tisha B’ Av- the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. On that day traditionally we observe 3 catastrophes which hit the Jewish people: The destruction of Solomon’s temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the destruction of Herod’s temple in the year 70 CE by the Romans and thirdly, the decree in 1492 expelling the Jews from Spain.
But two further moments exercise our minds this year: One is that exactly 100 years ago this coming Monday the First World War began: A conflagration and destruction which engulfed essentially Europe, but had its extension far beyond and resulted in historic changes to the world order. Though none are alive to tell of it, currently the world is remembering. Though whether it is learning from those memories is hard to fathom, for war is with us still.
And, in that context we can speak of Gaza. Ironically itself one of the theatres of war 100 years ago, Gaza remains a problem: And not just a problem to Israel, but to others beside.
With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 Gaza was incorporated into Egypt. Between 1948 and 1967 it was used as a very usefullLaunchpad for so called fellahin to raid Israel, harass border kibbutzim and worse. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War left her holding that territory, but Egypt did not want it back when eventually making peace with Israel.
Instead it was given as part of the area for the putative state of Palestine – though separate from the West Bank. It remained under total Israeli control until 2005 when Israel withdrew.
Israel withdrew, leaving behind buildings and infrastructure built up over those decades: Within weeks that was all pulled down as Hamas took over. And, let us remind ourselves, even if the world does not want to, that though money and resources were poured into Gaza to help the people, that money was rather used by Hamas to pursue its goal to try to destroy Israel.
In 2007 I saw for myself what that was about: While on a mission to Israel we went to the border town of Sderot. We saw for ourselves from not that far away a little of Gaza. More significantly we were shown several rockets: Crude of themselves, but the damage they can do is startling. And more than that, their firing influences everyday life: Imagine it: Attempting to go about one’s daily life fully aware that one of these things might strike you.
In the seven years since then these rockets have become more severe, their power stronger, their effect harsher.
The current situation had its start because 3 Israeli youngsters were kidnapped and then killed. Who did it and why is still in the mix, but clearly in the tit for tat of that region Israel was not going to leave that alone. What has eventuated may have been more than was first thought, and inevitably war has begotten war, with the inevitable unforeseen consequences and casualties.
One can only hope that gradually that quiet will come: One can only pray for a cessation. but peace?
I commenced by saying that we start the Book of Deuteronomy. In Hebrew the Book is called Devarim, from one of its opening words. It means “words” – these are the words.
But in Hebrew “DEVARIM” can also mean thoughts. Years ago I heard a wonderful comment on that: For the word Devarim is closely related to the word Devorah, which, in addition to a girl’s name is also a bee. We all know a bee can do two things: It can sting and it can make honey.
May our thoughts and words, may the thoughts and words of indeed all, be rather like honey, so that the stings and slings of enmity may fall away and that rather in our thoughts, words and deeds we pursue the paths of peace.