It is very easy to become indifferent and to dismiss the importance of our armed forces and the dedication of those who serve. It is even easier to hide behind religion and to promote a belief that by observing the commandments and being Godly, He will protect us from our enemies. I sometimes shudder when I hear the mocking of some coreligionists who find justification for their unwillingness to share in the collective responsibility of citizenship and adamantly refuse military service. I am proud that my son spent over a year serving in Kuwait and Iraq as part of the United States Armed forces.
(Below is a picture of Avner sitting on Saddam Hussein’s Golden throne just after the US forces captured Baghdad. He was brought to Baghdad for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to help lead services for the Jewish soldiers.)
Over the past few weeks as I analyzed the Torah portions, I thought in amazement of how comfortable many are to read the words of the Torah and then simply ignore what it says. We are told by our sages that the Torah is a blueprint for life and that stories of our ancestors are meant as guidance for future generations. Let us examine the life of Abraham and realize how it resembles the lives of our parents and grandparents. He was told to leave his land, his birthplace, his father’s house, and go to a new land where he is unknown. He didn’t know if he would ever return or see his parents, a sad reality faced by hundreds of thousands of refugees. Abraham was the first greener (immigrant) and thus was not only the father of the Jewish people but also the father of immigrants worldwide.
However, the following Torah portion tells of Abraham’s keen understanding of how an immigrant must behave. He must find ways of ingratiating himself to the indigenous natives and thus he goes out of his way to be hospitable even when he is physically unwell. He is aware of an innate fear of newcomers and is diligent to do more than what is expected of his peers. He doesn’t accept their way of life but he nevertheless joins with them in battle against their enemies. He fights alongside them and lets them interpret his actions as a proclamation that his life is no more valuable than theirs. Tens of thousands of his descendants proudly served in WW1, WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, and many paid the ultimate price in protecting our freedoms. Even today, in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, Jewish Americans continue to serve their country with pride while emulating our patriarch, Abraham.
And finally, Abraham is faced with the death of his dear wife, Sarah. He has to find a burial place and in his negotiation he chooses a strange phraseology. He says: Ger V’toshav Anochi – I am a stranger/resident with you. What he may be saying to them is, I am a stranger from a distant land but through my actions and involvement I should be perceived as a native and be given the same rights as a native. In other words, what Abraham is showing to his descendants is that there are three phases in the immigration process. The first phase is leaving what is precious to you. The second phase to becoming fully integrated is to ingratiate yourself to your new surroundings. Then and only then can you hope to reach the third phase – to be considered a true citizen.
To all our veterans who served, we collectively salute your bravery and thank you for your dedication and valor. Thank you for your commitment that catapulted us from being strangers into full-fledged citizens. I believe, however, that we are remiss by failing to include in the Mi’sheberach for the well-being of Tzahal, the men and women serving our country. May we beseech the Almighty that His eternal light shine upon those of us who still need moral clarity in comprehending the how’s and why’s of being an upstanding citizen. The values found in the Torah are eternal and thus what was relevant for a God fearing person thousands of years ago is equally relevant today. May members of all religions who claim to embrace a higher purpose find commonality with our Patriarch Abraham and follow his guidance in promoting mutual harmony and respect. By promoting peace we will hasten the countdown to the final redemption when war and hostility will cease and be replaced by security, serenity and peace.
Rabbi Jack Engel