Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Celebrating Israel at 67
Last evening, courtesy of our friend Betty Ehrenburg, Sarrae and I attended the reception given by Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Given in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, it was held in the Diplomats lounge at the UN. The ambassador referred in his remarks to an article that appeared 67 years ago in Life, the week after the founding of the state. The article wondered if Israel could survive, given that over half of those who were fighting for Israel lacked weapons and that many of them were new immigrants, with poor knowledge of Hebrew and military discipline. He went on to say that Israel has done more than survive. And as I chronicle week in and week out, with my “News from Israel” column, it is clear that it a source of amazing creativity, enriching not only Israel but the world, as well.
But, Israel’s survival has come at a high price. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. 1.5 million Israelis went to cemeteries to honor those who perished in defense of the state or were victims of terrorism. Over 22,000 individuals were honored yesterday, including 66 soldiers and 6 civilians who were killed this past summer, as a consequence of Operation Protective Edge. And given that it is far less than 6 degrees of separation in Israel, most Israelis know of someone who has suffered a loss or was wounded in this or an earlier conflict. The other night, Rabbi Irwin Zeplowitz, the speaker at the CHAI Institute, mentioned that his new son-in-law, was wounded while serving in Gaza this past summer. This brought home the impact of the seemingly endless cycle of violence that afflicts Israeli existence.
One of the things that my colleague discussed was Ruach Zahal, the IDF’s Code of Conduct. It is a document that every soldier in the Israeli army has with him/her and needs to abide by. It sets forth 10 values that need to be upheld, including discipline, professionalism, and tenacity of purpose. But what is remarkable is not only is there a section entitled “Human Life” which mandates that “during combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the extent required to carry out their mission,” but that there is one entitled “Purity of Arms (in Hebrew “Tohar HaNeshek”). That value states: The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property”. And while it is true, that at times Israeli soldiers have fallen short of upholding this value; for the most part they have honored it For example, this past summer, though clearly many Gazan civilians perished, there were multiple instances of when the IDF withheld fire and refrained from attacking buildings because it was clear that civilians would be impacted as well. (As a point of comparison, think about the “collateral damage” that are a result of American drone attacks on terrorists.) That there is such a value, given the dirty nature of war, is truly a credit to a Jewish ethic.
One wishes that 67 years later, Israel stands secure. But alas it does not. However, we can salute the remarkable nation that has achieved so much and brought honor to the Jewish people around the globe.
Break out some Israeli wine and drink a well-deserved L’chaim to Medinat Yisrael, the state of Israel.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
The UK and Israel: Linked Through Scientific Research
This past weekend, Israel and the United Kingdom signed yet another joint scientific research agreement. This agreement is between the British Royal Academy, the world’s oldest scientific fellowship, and the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities. It will provide funding for research in a number of scientific areas, as well as funding for 12-15 post-doctoral exchange students to study in each country.
This agreement is but the latest of a long line of similar agreements between the two nations that have hundreds, if not thousands, of science and medical research projects going on at one time. According to UK Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport: “There are so many examples of cooperation between researchers in our two countries. We have a great deal in common—world-class universities, top researchers, and common values. We have given each other a great deal, and there is so much more we can, and will, do together.”
Professor Ruth Arnon, the president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities echoed Walport’s remarks when she stated: “This agreement is a celebration of the international nature of scientific activity and recognizes that Britain and Israel, two countries that share scientific excellence, can augment their individual contributions to mankind through high-level collaboration. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The agreement serves also as clear statement in support of the unfettered exchange of ideas.”
One example of a joint effort is BIRAX—the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange—which provided 10 million pounds for advanced joint medical research in 11 universities in Great Britain and Israel. Among the projects being funded: the regeneration of a liver using a patient’s own stem cells (University of Edinburgh/Hebrew University); using a breath test for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (University of Cambridge/Technion); and regenerating immune cells to treat diabetes (Cardiff University/MIGAL).
As Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse observed: “International collaboration is essential to progress in science.” He noted, as well, that the UK benefits greatly from this bi-national cooperation, not only increasing scientific knowledge but improving the culture and economy of Britain.”
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The double portion of Tazriah-Metzorah (Leviticus 13:40-14:32) is read this Shabbat, April 25th.
14:4 The priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed.
14:4 The priest shall order two clean birds…for him who is to be cleansed. The essence of the one afflicted with “leprosy” [Tsara’at] is that it comes as a result of three sins hinted at in this Torah section, and they are: evil-speech (Lashon HaRah), pride and money lust….and I have gone beyond my fences to discuss this a little more at length as this is not a simple matter in this portion, for I have seen this generation which is engrossed in the sin of Lashon [HaRah], and this is an old recurrent affliction. Even the exile of Egypt was because they engaged in slander but they were redeemed because of four things, and one of them was for the merit of not engaging in Lashon HaRah. And during the period of the Second Temple they returned to their old ways. And when they were again in exile this sin of language continued and grew until the anger of God grew beyond healing. And hence I saw the need to speak about this with animation, for perhaps the sinners in the camp of the Hebrews will hear and set their hearts to repair this breach. And this is what I preached in the holy community of Lublin on Shabbat Zachor [the Shabbat before Purim] 5362 according to our calendar , when the heads of the community and the sages of the community were assembled. [This is probably a reference to his preaching before the heads of “the Council of Four Lands<” which represented Polish Jewry in that era.] (Rabbi Ephraim Luntschitz, Klee Yakar [sometimes written as Kli Yakar] cited in Rabbi Mordecai HaKohen, Ahl HaTorah: Mivchar Amarim L’Parshiyot HaShavuah. Rabbi Luntschitz was born in 1550 in Lenczyk/Lenczyca, also known as Luntschitz, hence the family name. He studied under Rabbi Solomon Luria in Lublin, and gained a reputation as a preacher, traveling through the communities of Poland. Sometime around 1600, he became the head of the yeshiva in Lemberg/Lvov [today Lviv in Ukraine]. In 1604 he was appointed rabbi of Prague, a post he held until his death in 1619. After a life-threatening illness, sometime after 1601, he was given the additional name of Shlomo and sometimes is referred to as Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz. [The Encyclopedia Judaica has it wrong, giving his name as Ephraim Solomon/Shlomo.] He is known for his commentary Klee Yakar, which first appeared in 1602 and has been reprinted many times and is included in some editions of the Pentateuch. Additionally, several collections of his sermons were printed during his lifetime, beginning with Ir Giborim, [city of strong men] published in Basel in 1680, and concluding with Amudei Shesh [pillars of marble], published in Prague in 1617. Additionally, after the Prague progrom of 1611, he composed three penitential prayers.]