NOAH DEFEATS HAMAS!

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Source: Bishop Seabury, Sermon October 21, 2023

This week’s Torah portion is named for the famous Noah – the man who was tasked by the Almighty to build an ark to save some remnants of the world that was about to be destroyed. G-d explains to Noah that the world had become totally corrupted and that He intends to lay waste to the world because, as the Torah puts it, and let’s read the pasuk/verse closely, “the land is filled with hamas” (Genesis 6:13). There are various translations of the word hamas – violence, iniquity, thievery etc. However, every meaning of this word ranges from bad to evil.  This is in contradistinction to the Arabic acronym Hamas meaning harakat al-muqawama al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement along with the individual word ‘hamas’ which means zeal.

When I was younger, I used to believe in coincidences and argued vociferously with my Grandmother regarding her position that, as she put it, all was in G-d’s hands and plans. I am much older now and believe in a theocentric universe in which there is no such thing as random coincidences; everything has a purpose and meaning. The war in which Israel is now engaged, the fight to tear out the very roots of hamas – also has a global message for humanity. We, like Noah, must do what we can to save morality and goodness in this world by eliminating evil. We must fight to save the humanity within mankind. Unfortunately, this very mission may well lead to a broader war.

About a year and a half ago, when a megalomaniacal Putin decided to invade Ukraine, the world slowly began to divide into “teams.” Unsurprisingly, the countries that have been drawn to Russia’s unholy cause include Iran, China, and North Korea. On the other side, we find the United States and the majority of the European nations. Even historically neutral countries banded together to protest the Russian aggression.

Do we see a pattern emerging here? Basically, (with the exception of the world’s largest democracy – India – who, for their own selfish reasons, have decided to remain neutral) you have the majority of the world’s democracies banding against the world’s most repressive regimes. Good versus Evil.

Can anyone possibly be surprised that the war that now rages in Israel is a result of a campaign spearheaded and funded by the Israel-hating leadership of Iran? This is a regime that has forsworn to wipe out the State of Israel on several occasions (as well as the Great Satan, the US). The United States, in a strong show of support, has sent warships to the region and, of course, has now itself become a target with three of its military bases in Iraq coming under attack.

This is NOT a war of ideologies – it is simply a war of Good versus Evil. The world at large witnessed the heinous and unspeakable crimes committed against innocent civilians in Israel. In fact, the perpetrators of these crimes were so proud of their handiwork that they themselves publicized it! By contrast, as my cousins in Israel and the IDF have confirmed, if Israeli soldiers entered an Arab home and they were disrespectful to any of the Arab women they ended up in the army’s military prison!

Maimonides, the great codifier of Jewish law, writes that the Jewish people, even when they were conquering the Land of Israel three thousand years ago, never began a war with any neighboring entity without first offering to be at peace. Even when they did go to war, writes Maimonides, they never surrounded the city from all four sides; they only attacked from three sides and always left a corridor for their enemies to escape.

The fact that even the ancient Jewish nation conducted their wars with morality and humanity should come as no surprise. The Holy Ark of the Covenant – containing the Tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people – was always taken out to war with the soldiers. This wasn’t because the Ark had “magical powers.”

Rather, the role of the Holy Ark in war was to remind the Jewish warriors what they stood for. Everyone knows that “war is hell” – and the atrocities that take place during a typical war are often unspeakable. It is not just evil militias like Hamas, the evidence of Russian war crimes on the local civilian populaces over the last year and a half are beyond words, the Chinese treatment of Uyghurs, among other examples.

This is precisely why the Ark was so important in the encampments of the ancient Israelites; it was there to remind our forbearers of what they stood for and to ensure that the army camp was a holy place – one that maintained the values and commandments of the Torah. The true power of the Holy Ark was to remind the Jewish warriors what they were fighting for – a theocentric world in which morality and the value of being a good person reigns supreme.

A few days ago, one of my Jerusalem cousins forward an absolutely stunning video on WhatsApp; it was the inside of a large warehouse in which there were literally hundreds upon hundreds of holy Torah scrolls lined up on shelves. What was their purpose?

To this very day the Israeli army takes a Torah scroll to wherever they are camped so that the soldiers can use them during their weekday and Shabbat prayers. The video clip I saw was of the army warehouse where all the Sifrei Torah/Torah scrolls are stored. It’s incredible; the Jewish people not only maintain the traditions of their forefathers from thousands of years ago, but still bring Torah scrolls out to battle as a reminder of what they are fighting for.

I remembering reading a gloss in the Talmud years ago which stated that whenever the Jewish people become so divisive G-d sends an outside force to remind them that they need one another and that their destinies are inextricably tied.

Witnessing Israel coming together during these most difficult times – irrespective of religious or political party affiliation – has been truly heartening. When the army called up 360,000 reservists all of a sudden the army needed to prepare another million meals a day because 150% showed up for duty! Civilians from the bottom of the country to the top pitched in to cook and package food. My niece and nephew bake 100 challahs each week for soldiers on the front. Non-kosher restaurants all over the country shut down and took on the task of scouring and making their kitchens kosher in order to participate and help in the effort (the army only accepts kosher food prepared under rabbinical supervision).

Many yeshivot – religious schools of Torah study – sent their students throughout the country to make shiva calls – visiting the bereaved families of those who perished. Of course, there are many bittersweet stories; one family, newly immigrated from Brazil, lost their 24-year-old daughter who was murdered when the terrorists wantonly butchered anyone they could. This unfortunate family hardly knew anyone in the country and asked if a few men could come to the funeral to help make a minyan (quorum required for prayer) so that the kaddish (prayers for the dead) could be recited. Over 10,000 people showed up to the young woman’s funeral. Firmly, take a look at volunteer rates for military service among the Haredi population; it is off the charts!

I will end with a piece written some 75 years ago by Rabbi Eli Munk – a well-respected sage of the previous generation who wrote books on many topics (you may borrow as I have all of his writings in my office library). Here is his comment on the word hamas that appears in this week’s Torah portion.

“(Hamas) is the iniquity that leads society to its ruin; it is in and of itself a crime but not only that. It is accompanied by cunning or malice which the justice of men has no means to prosecute, but which only the voice of our conscience can prevent. But this voice is stifled when society sinks into perversity and then nothing can stop the catastrophe.”

When we see what is going on at the college campuses all over the United States, it is hard to imagine that this looming “catastrophe” can be averted (e.g. Tufts University, UMass, UConn, all of the Ivy League school, USF, UCLA, UC-Davis and the list is endless). These foolish people suffer from both simple Jew-hatred and from the worst kind of cognitive dissonance. What this really means is that they hate the Jewish people more than they love themselves. But that is a conversation for another time.

The message of Noah is to internalize the values of our Torah and maintain a conscience that will fight perversity and seek justice and humanity. That is what the Almighty wants for our world.