Then the officials shall address the troops, as follows: . . . “Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard but has never harvested it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another harvest it. Is there anyone who has paid the bride-price for a wife, but who has not yet married her? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another marry her.”
In the summer of 2014, my family traveled to Israel for the B’nai Mitzvah of my oldest grandchildren. Rabbi Cohen was studying that summer at the Hartman Institute, and we were beyond thrilled that he was able to officiate at the service in Jerusalem. However, tension was brewing in Israel and Gaza and the news was filled with details of rocket launches and deaths on both sides. The word ‘war’ was in the headlines. Many planned Israel trips were cancelled due to the perceived and real danger, but our family made the decision to go forward with our plans. It was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in Israel, and all of us knew we had to be there. When I read the verses of this week’s Torah portion, Shof’tim, I immediately think of the soldiers who were moved into Gaza during that summer of 2014. All during my time in Israel, I continued to ask myself and Roni, our guide, whose 20-year-old son was serving in Gaza, “How do we honor the soldiers and the civilians who are fighting? How do we embrace the memory of the Israeli soldiers who have died protecting us? Roni’s answer was always – “live with hope, live actively and not in fear, come to Israel, continue to help nourish and nurture this land.” My heart broke. At times I felt guilty as I immersed myself in every Israel experience, while not far away, soldiers were dying.
Unfortunately, the story is not a new one. A number of years ago, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed the Israeli author, David Grossman who stated, “The future is very dubious. We have, as Jewish people in Israel, an enormous past and a very strong and vital presence. But there is not a real inherent sense of having a future … no sane Israeli will make plans for ten years ahead from now.” I believe that today, that has changed; Israelis do make plans for the future, but we continue to think of all the soldiers serving in Israel and the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other countries of terror. Is any one of them exempt from the categories listed in Shof’tim? Has any one of them not planted a vineyard that is yet to be harvested?
Yet, As Rabbi Zoe Klein points out, this passage is not only about soldiers going to war, but it is also about each and every one of us. We each have a vineyard. We’ve all planted seedlings of an idea or a dream. I know I have. Maybe it’s a new career we’ve hoped to pursue, an instrument we’ve dreamed of one day mastering, a painting we can see in our mind’s eye. Maybe it’s a plan we’ve made or an idea sparked by an advertisement we’ve received. Maybe it’s a dream of family relationships. Maybe there’s a friend we’ve been meaning to call or a reconciliation we are mustering the courage to make. Every day, we initiate plantings but postpone the harvest for another day, sometime in the dubious future. What a powerful and important parallel to consider.
During our trip to Israel, we went to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. I looked at the words of the song that had been folded neatly in Rabin’s pocket when he was assassinated, his own blood seeping through the page … “Nobody will return us from the dead and darkened pit. Here, neither the joy of victory nor songs of praise will help… Sing a song for peace with a giant shout! … Don’t say ‘the day will come,’ bring the day …”
Many people remain hopeful for peace and believe that we honor our soldiers by “bringing the day,” a day when the future is secure and fruitful. Others wonder about their ability to stay left of center.
Bill Moyers had asked David Grossman, “How can you imagine a better future?” The author answered then, “The first thing that we should do when we have a real peace treaty (a hope back in 2002!) between us and the Palestinians is to change the study programs, is to change the textbooks, is to teach both peoples from childhood to live in life of mutuality, of respecting the other. We have only the emotional dictionary of hatred. And this must be changed… How painful to consider that this interview took place so many years ago, hoping for true peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the struggle continues although strides have been made with programs like Hand in Hand.
Grossman’s message can certainly be applied today to all of us. Begin harvesting the vineyard today. Pick up the phone. Write the first word. Take the first step. Join. Belong. Bring the day. We don’t know what there will be
in time. But we do know what we have for the time being. But let’s add one more component to the message of “bring the day.”
Indeed, Shof’tim reminds us that even in the face of battle, we must maintain perspective, and the only perspective that makes sense is one of hope. There is no reason to go back to marry your betrothed unless your expectation is to return to her. There is no reason to farm your land unless you expect to return to live by its yield. Rabbi Marc Kline suggests the following: While certainly we should not wait to begin the work of fulfilling our dreams or of working actively toward peace, we must understand that this is not just a matter of not wasting the blessing of time. It is all about acknowledging the blessing of hope. What a beautiful phrase… the blessing of hope. It is our way of life. It is hope that saw us through the centuries of pogroms and attempts to destroy us, our families, our history, and our future. It is hope that gives us the strength to acknowledge all that has befallen us in history and stand tall, knowing that while one reads only of our oppressors in the history books, our story continues in daily news reports.
“HaTikvah,” “The Hope,” our national anthem of the State of Israel is the battle cry of peace, as much as it is the source of our renewed strength. It speaks for a country founded on the value of equality for all people, as declared in its Declaration of Independence. And it is this sense of hope that is at the core of Jewish values. And so, Torah teaches that even in the face of darkness, we must maintain the hope for a day when there will be no more war, when all of us can live full, active lives in Israel without fear, but with blessings. I know for myself, I’m determined to maintain this blessing of hope and then to honor the soldiers by continuing to return to Israel and return with hope in my heart. Jerry and I are looking forward to our Israel trip this March with our Temple Jeremiah family.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.