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Parashat Va'etchanan: Remembering the Values of a Nation

The Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) approved the controversial "reasonability" bill last Monday with 64 votes in favor and 0 against. All members of the ruling coalition voted in favor, while all members of the opposition left the chamber.


This law would strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable in cases of excesses or injustices, a control system used in countries like Austria, the United Kingdom, and Canada.


Israel is currently going through an extreme crisis that goes beyond political or judicial matters. The cancellation of this law, promoted and pushed by the ultra-right religious parties, aims to influence the state's decision on who is considered Jewish and who is not, sidelining liberal Jews from the nation. On the other hand, it aims to ignore the prohibition of reappointing certain officials accused of corruption to public positions that were previously forbidden to them.


The imminent danger is that this decision has divided the state of Israel, with half of the country literally marching every week against this decision. The Bar Association has urged the Supreme Court to fairly apply the "irrationality" law to this decision made by the Knesset, labeling it as unreasonable and invalidating it, which would cause a clear confrontation between the Government and the Judicial Branch.


The situation is indeed extremely concerning, especially considering that the armed forces are opposing the annulment of this law and may refuse to obey government orders. This raises a highly perilous scenario, particularly given the growing threat of war with Iran and the attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas. The potential combination of internal divisions and external security challenges creates a volatile and precarious environment for the state of Israel. The need for dialogue, cooperation, and finding common ground among all parties involved is crucial to address these pressing issues and maintain stability and security in the region.


Indeed, the fact that all of this unfolded during the week of Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, makes us contemplate how life seems devoid of coincidences.


2600 years ago, the epicenter of Jewish religious ritual was destroyed, which our sages cataloged as Sinat Achim, the hatred between brothers, and Sinat Chinam, baseless and gratuitous hatred. The people were divided, with the priests on one side and the rabbis in the legislative body of the Sanhedrin on the other. Corruption was also present, contributing to the eventual destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Great Temple of Jerusalem, and the exile of the people.


The parallel between the historical events and the current situation is a stark reminder of the consequences of internal division, animosity, and corruption within a nation. It serves as a powerful call for reflection and a plea for unity, understanding, and empathy among the people to prevent further turmoil and safeguard the well-being of the nation.


In contrast to all that is happening, in our Parashat Va'etchanan, we witness Moses pleading to enter the Land of Israel with the people, but once again, God denies his request. We encounter the Ten Commandments once more, as Moses recalls and teaches them to the generation that did not witness the Covenant at Sinai, preparing them to enter the Promised Land.


Despite his disappointment, shattered hopes, and denied prayers, Moses continues to lead, transmit, and teach what is expected of this people who are meant to establish in their land a society that upholds values of freedom, justice, equality before the law, and respect for diversity. Moses sets aside his own disappointment and immense desire for the sake of the society of the people he is entrusted to lead.


It seems evident that the leaders of this time have forgotten these values. It appears that even those who call themselves religious or observant of the Law read and interpret it, as always, for their own benefit instead of the collective good. This is something we see in other countries and other governments, but we did not expect it from Israel.


These are times when we desperately need to look forward and act, always remembering that our tradition is rooted in a past that contains a communal fabric, with diversities, nuances, and shades of all kinds.


Today, on Shabbat Nachamu, we begin with the Haftarah that starts with the word "consolation." We may not need consolation at this moment, as there is no destruction yet. Let us pray to God to grant clarity to our leaders in Israel, so they may achieve the institutional peace needed for an organized life close to the Torah and the mitzvot, with respect for dissent and open-mindedness.


It is indeed a time for reflection, unity, and a collective commitment to uphold the values that will lead to a just and harmonious society. May the leaders in Israel be guided to make decisions that prioritize the well-being and prosperity of all their people, fostering an environment of understanding, compassion, and cooperation.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Gustavo Geier

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