Later in the service, we will hear about today’s Torah portion, about stolen birthrights and land, about lineages and the arc of history, themes all too relevant. But now I will say a few words about this very moment, about the current war.
Today, exactly 50 days from Yom Kippur, Ethiopian Jews celebrate what is called Sigd, not the giving, but the receiving of the Torah. This is the celebration of our accepting our wisdom tradition.
So a few words about what I accept. In the Jewish tradition I was raised in, it’s virtually obligatory to hold two ideas in your mind at the same time, often contradictory ones. On Yom Kippur we recall that there’s no reason we can’t all be perfect, and being human we will miss the mark yet again this year. We are perfect and imperfect. Duality is not solely Jewish, though we are particularly attracted to paradox. It’s part of the larger culture, this understanding of dual truths:
We say, Look before you leap
But also, Those who hesitate are lost
Some is good, more is better
But, Moderation in all things
My favorite: Opportunity knocks but once
Marry in haste, repent in leisure [I have more]
At this terrible time, we are being asked to turn away, to take one side and ignore its opposite. Protesters are called “pro-Palestinian” as if this were a sporting contest—that asking for human rights, and a cessation of mass killing, of bombings and displacement of human beings, of collective punishment means taking sides. We are on the side of humanity.
We honor the memory of our community member and Kadima school teacher, Hayim Katsman, lost on October7, who dedicated his UW dissertation to “all life forms that exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. We dedicate this service to all those between the river and the sea who are suffering, oppressed, grieving, heartbroken, terrified, and profoundly traumatized. To those in Gaza without food, water, fuel. As Hayim’s brother said in his eulogy, “Do not use our death and our pain to bring the death and pain of other people and other families. . . . I have no doubt that even in the face of Hamas people that murdered him … he would still speak out against the killing and violence of innocent people.”
Today we hold two ideas at the same time. What happened on October 7 is abominable. What is now happening in Gaza is abominable. And it must stop.
In the tradition of Sigd, this is the day to renew the Jewish covenant, what may be for you a covenant with G-d, or the sacred, or the ethical principles of our tradition and of international humanitarian law. And these are being breached. The World Health Organization reports that a child dies in Gaza every 10 minutes. A child is a child is a child. In Jewish teaching, every human life is a universe.
Here is one of the best examples I’ve seen of holding two ideas. This is from my 91-year-old cousin in Jerusalem. He wrote me: We …mourn our dear soldiers who are being killed—while doing the ground war killing. There are no sides that win here, only death. We must have a ceasefire now.