What Would Moses Say About Modern Israel?

This past weekend, I was honored to give a D’var Torah (sermon) in front of my fellow congregants at Beth David Synagogue. The week’s Torah portion covered some of Moses’ speech to the Tribes of Israel before they took possession of Eretz Yisrael. I took the opportunity to evaluate modern day Israel through the eyes of Moses. 

What follows is an excerpt from my full remarks. I’ve spared you the re-hashing of the text, and just included my insights and thoughts.  

The Repeating Themes

What stood out to me after several readings of the parsha were three repeating themes.

First, Moses hammers home the need to follow God’s word. Chapters 8, 9 and 11 all begin with Moses emphasizing adherence to the rules and laws that God passed down to the Jews. In fact, Moses uses the hard sell: “Bear in mind that the LORD your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son,” he says. Meaning that if we don’t act according to the rules God sets before us, we are to expect God’s punishment.

A second repeating theme is the covenant made between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses brings this up again and again to remind us that this is when God promised the Land of Israel to the Jews.

The third repeating theme is Moses’ criticism of the tribes of Israel. Moses call us a “stiffnecked people.” He recalls the many times that the Jews have refused to follow God’s laws, even after witnessing some of God’s miracles.

Through these repeating themes, Moses sets forth the charter for Jewish ownership of the land of Israel. In doing so, Moses creates Zionism.

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US Embassy Move to Jerusalem: Biting the poison apple

Many of us learned last week of President Trump’s announced plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The move was not unforseen, as media coverage in the preceding week informed us to expect the decision; and Mr. Trump, himself, made the pledge during the presidential campaign last year.

The anticipated announcement consumed the media for days, as political and foreign policy experts weighed in on the consequences of the decision. I assume similar debates were held in the halls of leading Jewish organizations in Israel and the diaspora. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is a big deal, and an organized response by the Jewish community is to be expected.

I had a chance to read the statement made by Jewish Federations of North America, which was subsequently reaffirmed by our own Greensboro Jewish Federation. Many of you, like me, also received a follow-up message from Rabbi Fred Guttman, who called the Trump administration’s decision “the right thing to do.”

“The right thing to do…” That phrase gave me considerable pause.

Do we know that this is really the right thing to do?

After a few days of deliberation and internal struggle, I found myself very much unsettled by the statements made by Jewish organizations and leaders in support of Mr. Trump’s decision. This includes our local Jewish institutions that speak for our community.

Having the benefit of a few days’ time to analyze the world’s reaction to the announcement, I am not at all convinced that the consequences are worth the “victory.”

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