JPOST Feb. 17th with cartoon by Menachem Jerenberg

Growing up in the urban jungle of Brooklyn, I had a romantic vision of the suburban house with a white picket fence.  The fence appeared to be a reward for years of hard work and I imagined the owner’s self-gratification by publicly displaying it. Yet for all the comfort it may bring, a fence may also highlight a potential character flaw.  The fence may appear to secure a perimeter, or it may be an architectural finish, but for others it becomes a place on which to sit.

In this week’s Torah portion we are told that immediately following the exodus of Egypt, after seeing firsthand the miraculous intervention by God, the people abandoned Him and began worshipping a golden calf.  The commentaries mention that only a few thousand people were actually engaged in worship, yet all 600,000 were punished. They were guilty of the crime of fence sitting. They were guilty of standing back and allowing the winds of change to direct them.  When Moshe responds to the debacle of the golden calf he states: mi l’Hashem – who is going to unequivocally follow God? Much to his chagrin, only the tribe of Levi came forward. The remaining tribes were unwilling to get off their fence; they were unwilling to decide right from wrong.

In the Haftorah we read of the Prophet Elijah’s confrontation with King Ahab who reigned during the period of the first temple in Jerusalem, approximately 2900 years ago.  In conjunction with his evil wife, Jezebel, they mercilessly killed all the prophets of God and replaced them with priests dedicated to the worship of idols. Elijah confronts the people and baits them with a challenge. He says: “If you are for God be for God, and if you are for Ba’al (the name of an idol) be for Ba’al”. You can’t play both sides; if one is correct, the other is incorrect. In yiddish there is an expression, mir ken nisht tantzen oif beider chasunahs – you can’t simultaneously dance at two weddings.

Ahab and Jezebel are certainly held accountable for oppressing their constituents by propelling them towards idol worship.  However, the people are guilty and should have stood up against their tyrannical leaders.  It is easy to read the story and ignore its correlation to today. Has our society learned the lessons of the golden calf or the story of Ahab and Elijah?

I often think of life in terms of the picket fence. It is so easy to become complacent and imagine that all is fine behind our secure fences. Often the wooden pickets are so tightly placed that it’s impossible to see beyond our property line. Last week our shul hosted an AIPAC event which was well attended by the community.  AIPAC represents a cohesive response to apathy.  It addresses global Jewish issues with tenacity and makes no apologies for Israel’s right to exist and flourish. It doesn’t shy away from promoting Israel to a bipartisan audience. It refuses to allow politicians from both political parties to sit on the fence and it acts with conviction to foster geopolitical support for Israel. It doesn’t kowtow to Anti-Israel propaganda and it forcibly asks the democratic world to answer the question posed by Elijah: If you are for the God of Israel, then show support for God and his people. If you are not for God…well at least we know.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack Engel

This article is dedicated in honor of Aaron Brenner on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. Mazel tov to Stacey and Dr. Warren Brenner and the entire family.

PS: The shul will be having both sedarim and daily meals for the entire Pesach. Last year we hosted 90 people for the first seder and look forward to exceeding that number this year. Pesach is a time that no one should be alone and thus everybody is welcome regardless of their ability to pay. If you want to attend or sponsor families in need, please contact Rabbi Jack at or the shul office. 

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