Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Parashat Ki Teitzei - Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet/ guard-rail for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house when/if a faller should fall from it.” (22:8)

Rashi, the medieval commentator, links this verse about building parapets to the section that immediately precedes it about not taking a mother bird and her young on the same day. He comments as follows: 

WHEN YOU BUILD A NEW HOUSE - If you have fulfilled the command of letting a mother bird go you will in the end be privileged to build a new house and to fulfil the command of making a parapet, for one good deed brings another good deed in its train, (Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah) and you will attain to a vineyard (v. 9), fields (v. 10) and fine garments (vv. 11—12). It is for this reason (to suggest this) that these sections are put in juxtaposition (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 1).

People respond to the challenges of the world in different ways, each according to their own nature. Some of us are active, loud, aggressive. We raise our voices in protest, pray with our feet, lead by example, use our entire bodies when necessary. Others of us shy away from any type of physical confrontation but perhaps feel comfortable writing a letter to an elected official, signing a petition, or posting on social media. Others of us freeze, seized with fear and worry, perhaps hoping that if we keep our heads low and our voices quiet the whole situation will blow over in time. If it doesn’t directly impact us maybe things will just be okay if….

What we must understand, what Rashi teaches us here, is that our good and bad deeds are not discrete, disconnected acts. Our deeds are interwoven. Doing a mitzvah leads on to other good deeds, impacting not only those around us but also, more deeply, ourselves. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah, one good deed brings another good deed in its train. 

We don’t all need to be heroes. 

Ordinary acts of compassion for animals lead us towards having compassion for humans too; putting a guard rail up on the roofs of our houses ensures that people won’t fall off due to our lack of thought. The verse quoted above contains an oddity - it refers to the person who might fall off your roof as “a faller” not “a person”. The implication seems to be that someone really would have fallen off your roof if it were not for your building a parapet. What begins with a concern for the feelings of a bird ends with actually saving a human life.  

Don’t start big; you can start really small! You don’t have to do something big like organizing a rally or storming the White House to make a difference. Start with small acts of thoughtfulness and compassion. Every action makes a difference because ultimately good follows good. Mitzvah goreret Mitzvah. The complexity of the modern world makes us feel as if we are impotent. But we are not.

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the rabbi of the Olney Kehila and a community Chaplain in the Washington, DC area. 
Rabbi Joel Levy is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. 

This Dvar has also been published in the Washington Jewish Week Newspaper. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

On the Border with Gaza: My visit to Netiv HaAsara

I am feeling incredibly saddened and angered by the most recent round of rockets and mortar shells from and to Gaza in the last 24 hours. And the weaponized children’s toys - the kites and the balloons with incendiary devices attached to them that have become part of this summers reality. Too many of the people living in Gaza have become hostages to Hamas and terror groups. The people living in Southern Israel and increasingly in places deeper into Israel are also being held hostage to the fear and the reality of not knowing when a rocket is going to appear, when a siren will sound, when their life will be in danger and they will have to run to the nearest shelter. 

I was in Israel the summer of 2014 during the last summer of terror. I remember spending time in bomb shelters. I remember being caught outside, cowering, watching, in awe and with prayer and pride, as the Iron Dome, intercepted rockets. I remember my fear as my daughter traveled around the country and all I could do was pray. 

And I was an American, a tourist, just living in Israel temporarily. Though my heart and soul reside in Israel, my main residence is Maryland.  I went home. And I came back this summer for nearly 2 months. Now I’m home in the States again. 

Last month my adopted big sister Ohelli, who lives in Ashkelon, found a balloon wafting into her kitchen. She almost had a heart attack. Thank God it did not have its incendiary device attached to it. Yesterday, my cousin, Ohelli’s daughter, and her little girls, had a bomb explode near their home in Beersheva. It hurts my heart to say that unfortunately this is not she first time has experienced such horror. But her daughters? They are babies. They should not have to experience such things. No one’s children - Jew or Arab - should have such childhood experiences. 

A few week’s ago, when I was visiting Ohelli in Ashkelon, she reminded me that she lived only 11 kilometers (just about 7 miles) from Gaza. Although I was a senior (read: elderly) transportation and mobility specialist for many years I have very little conception of distance. So to illustrate just how close Ashkelon was to Gaza, we drove to a Moshav called Netiv HaAsara.  

Netiv HaAsara is the closest community in Israel to Gaza. The moshav was founded in 1982 by 70 families who were residents of the former Israeli settlement of Netiv HaAsara in the Sinai Peninsula which was evacuated when Israel turned over Yamit to Egypt as a result of the Camp David Accords.  The original moshav had been named for ten soldiers that were killed in a helicopter accident south of Rafah in 1971. 

I must admit that the name of the Netiv HaAsara was familiar to me not from the historical context that I just wrote about, but only from the Red Alert App that I have on my phone. Actually, as I wrote this blog two alerts went off indicating sirens sounding in Netiv HaAsara at 21:15:20 and 21:15:26. At Netiv HaAsara they have 15 seconds to a get to a bomb shelter once they hear the sound of the siren. 15 seconds. That is not a lot of time. By comparison, in Jerusalem one has 1.5 minutes. In Ashkelon one has 30 seconds. 

There are quite a few families who live in Netiv HaAsara. It is actually quite lovely. The children go to school in a neighboring Kibbutz, Yad Mordechai, which also has a 15 second siren to shelter time period.  I remember going Israeli dancing there in the early 1980s. Anyway, houses are still being built in Netiv HaAsara - new families are still moving in. People want to live there, they feel it’s important to live there. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, “In the 2010s Netiv HaAsara became an increasingly popular tourist attraction among foreign visitors drawn to a community where ordinary life continues despite constant threat of rocket attacks from neighboring Gaza.”

There is a wall that separates the Moshav from Gaza. It is decorated with ceramic art work by a local artist. It’s beautiful really, as are the bus stops which are also the bomb shelters. The human spirit wins out. Beauty out of desolation. The main drag, so to speak, is called Netiv L'Shalom - the Path to Peace
Kein Yehi Ratzon - So May It Be. 

picture of the balloon bombs being thrown from Gaza

The remains of an exploded balloon

Welcome to Netiv HaAsara

 The fence with Gaza

Netiv L'Shalom  ~  The Path to Peace

Bus stops/Bomb Shelters

An ordinary house.....