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Every act we do leaves behind an energetic impression, a residue that resounds in the collective field, like an echo. The Rabbis call this Reshimu. Yogis call it Shaisha. (Imagine spiritual sound waves.)
Notice that you can feel the reshimu of every prayer we sing here tonight. That is why we don’t rush ahead, but linger in the silence after each song. Notice the healing power of the reshimu and let yourself bathe in it.
Tonight we’ve been talking about the kabbalistic principle of reshimu, the residue or spiritual echo that is left after a strong prayer. Think about the power of a good deed in the world. The echo that a loving act has, sometimes remembered for years. like a thoughtful gift or an invitation to stay at your house. Now imagine a whole life that is dedicated to loving acts, to truth, to justice… that life is going to have a reshimu that goes far into the future.
Right now in the Torah cycle, we are feeling the reshimu of Avraham Avinu, still reverberating, still vibrating in the psyche of the world.
Who was he? Why is he still loved throughout the world?
What was his legacy?
Abraham was the man of the open tent, welcoming all.
A man who smashed idols.
A man who confronted God.
A man who knew boundaries: he set Lot up and went in the other direction;
A man who answered the call of Lech Lecha.
Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset said: In the consciousness of the West, the Avrahamic psyche is one of moving forward. Not getting stuck in ideology or position, rather he get moving on.
And in the Middle East, where Abraham walked and spoke, his rishimu is especially felt. He is still loved and revered by all. Some of you know that his footsteps from Charan to Hevron are being mapped out as a pilrim’s walk called the Abraham Path Initiative.
But as it is often the case, there are counter forces that play on even the most beneficent of legacies. The rishimu left by the Shoah, for example, is so powerful in Israel, the determination to survive, the cry: Never Again! And it runs counter to Abraham’s legacy.
There is so much I would like to share with you about my travels these past 2 weeks to Israel and Palestine. Tonight because we are finishing the cycle of three Torah portions about Abraham, coming to Sarah’s and his death, I’d like to honor their memories with the positive as well as the counter influence that is active in Israel, which spells itself out in the form of walls, protection, and might.
>Hevron, city of the friend, is named after Avraham, the great friend of the people, called l, in Arabic. Ironically, it is here in Hebron that there is the greatest disturbance of all. You may know that Hebron is the site of so much blood shed on both sides. Today it is a heavily militarized zone, where extremist Jewish settlers have moved in, taking over and wreaking havoc on any Palestinian family who dares to remain. These orthodox Settlers are dangerous. Our delegation of 40 was allowed in, but only with a military escort of 8 jeeps and trucks, and 100 solidiers who created a gauntlet for us to walk through. Not to protect us from Palestinians, mind you, but from the Settlers.
There are roughly 600 settlers in Hebron, guarded by four times as many Israeli army soldiers. Their acts are breathlessly ugly, inconceivable because they are orthodox Jews who daven 3 times a day and carry out all the Jewish laws to the letter. Yet they regularly rampage and destroy the homes and property of the Palestinians there, stoning children on the way to school, throwing garbage in their paths.
On the main road of Hebron, now a ghost town due to the terror inflicted on Palestinians, the Arab citizens who remain are locked in their homes, literally not allowed to walk outside their houses lest they be shot. We waved to Palestinian stonelike children looking out of windows with heavy metal cages over them. They did not respond to our gestures. They and their parents are hostages.>Should their pregnant mother go into labor she would have to go down the back steps of her home, taking her life into her hands to get to a hospital. Where the grandfather who dies cannot be carried across the street to the Arab graveyard, but must be carried 20 kilometers where cars are not allowed, to be buried.
But let’s cross the checkpoint, and go back to a saner side of Israel. I hope you will go to Israel some time and when you do (unless you come with me, that is) you will find an Israel that is gorgeous, green, thriving, full of fashion and culture, and intellectual stimulation everywhere. Every night, concerts, and theatre. Every day, Torah study with brilliant scholars, lectures on all manner of topics, and amazingly creative things for children to blossom their minds. The Israeli enterprise is incredibly successful! Science, technology and medicine flourish. Israel is a modern miracle, the fruition of the prophets’ words that God will gather all the scattered Jews from the four corners of the world…On the streets, black Jews from Ethiopia, blond Jews from Russia, Westerners with Irish or American accents; Jews from Argentina and India and Afghanistan and throughout the Arab world. All of them speak modern Hebrew, this phoenix of a language which was presumed to be dead a century ago. And somehow, it works, all these Jews from so many cultures. If you are Jewish in Israel, you can make it.
In this sense, Abraham’s tent is alive and open. But only to Jews. Because of intense violence Israel has endured, and fear for our own survival, the largesse of the Abrahamic spirit has contracted like a fist. The Separation Barrier that divides the land and hides the darkness of a terrible occupation on the other side.
The good news is that the Wall holds back intense hatred. The bad news is that the Wall holds back intense hatred. Suicide bombings are down by 90+%. But there is discrimination, poverty and despair on the other side that is frightening. I am not against the wall, it works. I am against the Wall as final solution, as an ideology that is hard and fixed and I am against what happens behind the wall, which most people never see.
Not only because it goes against Avrum’s legacy and the most sacred Jewish principles. But because our human rights abuses are demoralizing us as a people, and the hatred that is fomenting as a result poses the ultimate security threat to our people.
So where is Abraham’s rishimu in all this? Let me tell you two cases: One in honor of Avraham and one in honor of Sarah, whose Torah portion this is. Many of you are familiar with and have donated to RHR. It was so powerful to be on this delegation with the Rabbis for Human Rights, showing up as Jews who say to the humble farmers and villagers: What you are enduring is not the Jewish way. Planting trees in a field that had been plundered by neighboring settlers, showing up to see the demolished home, to hear their stories, wearing kippot, felt like interrupting the negative stereotype of “Jew” that is being imprinted on the Palestinian mind.
And then there were the Jewish mothers: One of the Israeli activist groups we visited was Machsom Watch. Early every morning, thousands of Palestinians must cross over to Israel to work, forced to go through checkpoints. There are 700 checkpoints. To see this is quite unbelievable. To get to work by 7am, many must start out at 3am. The picture is dismal: Thousands of (mostly) men herded through small lanes, required to show three different identifications, asked to undress for body searches; hours of waiting with no toilets; daily humiliation. Checkpoints, like the Separation Barrier, may be necessary for security, but what happens at the checkpoints is not.
Here comes Machsom Watch, Jewish Mothers, all older women whose own children are sprung, show up at the checkpoints each morning and stand there watching. That’s all. They simply watch. Watch for unnecessary acts of humiliation on the part of the young men and women in the glass checkpoint stands. Watch for who in line is struggling, falling, sick. The women we met were pithy, seasoned. They told us stories about intervening to get people across who were in medical crisis. Using all their connections to inject some measure of humanity. Many do not make it. Chanah Barag, a MW founder said: “Look, there is a war going on, there is no question that the State of Israel must remain secure. But not through this kind of humiliation.” These women are carrying the rishimu of Sarah.
Israel is a land of great promise and miracles, and it has a dark underbelly. Once you have seen the other side, it is hard to forget it. Like a family with skeletons in the closet, or more aptly, families that refuse to interact with certain members and build walls to avoid the other. This is, in fact, my own case. While I take strength in the miracle of my mother’s renewed love, I know that it will take years to build a bridge with my brother, who is himself, a settler in the Occupied Territories, and sees carrying out Abraham’s legacy in a very different way than I do. Healing these rifts takes time. I take comfort in this week’s passage about Isaac and Yishmael burying their father, Abraham together.
>Abraham’s legacy is still strong. It resonates whenever we are able to let go of our staunch positions and move forward to new ground, and whenever we respond to a deep inner call of Spirit, a new Lech Lecha. Whenever we open our tent flaps to invite in a stranger, whenever we are able to bridge and include.
I return from my trip asking a lot of questions: How can we open our hearts to parts of our Jewish family that seem to be stuck or fanatical? How can we heal the walls in our own families, as well as the wall in this land that we love? And finally, what is the rishimu echoing from our lives into the world, and what is the legacy that we are building, that we most want to leave behind?
There will be other trips and perhaps some of you will come with me next time. In the meantime, may we each be blessed to break down the walls in our own selves, in our own families, and in the world around us, and may the goodness and justice of Abraham and Sarah guide our steps.
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