A Response to the Murders in Har Nof, Jerusalem - Shabbat Sermon

29 years ago Lenore and I were in Israel for my second year of rabbinical school. It is common that friends and relatives, even those only remotely connected, are more than willing to open their homes in Israel to their visitors. Such was the case for us when among the people we contacted in Jerusalem was the son of a friend of Lenore's mother who had made aliyah with his family to Har Nof. They graciously invited us to their home for shabbat. We learned how tight knit that community was and how religious it is as well - home to the "Bostoner Rebbe" and his Hassidic community.

Synagogues, as all houses of worship, are supposed to be sanctuaries. People enter a synagogue hoping to find peace and serenity - an escape from the pressures outside the doors. People enter a synagogue to be with friends and family to celebrate and to pray. All that was shattered this past week when Rabbis Moshe Twersky, 59; Kalman Levine, 55; Aryeh Kupinsky, 43; and Avraham Goldberg, 68 along with an Israeli Druze policeman Zidan Saif, 30 were gunned down by 2 Palestinian terrorists.

The cycle of violence has increased over the past several weeks and months ever since the Operation Protective Edge ended in Gaza in August. Though nearly all of the blame lies with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for doing nothing to stop the violence, we must also admit that some of the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu's government have not helped matters either. I don't mean to blame Netanyahu in any way, but I do mean to say that Netanyahu and his government have to realize how their policies are perceived by the Palestinians. This does not excuse terrorist activity - God forbid - but it does acknowledge that Israel's government needs to be sympathetic to the average Palestinian citizen.

A word from the Torah reading this past shabbat - the portion Toldot - can be instructive. When Isaac prayed to God for a child he used the Hebrew word - "va-ye-e-tar" - ויעתר. It is a word that is only used in the Torah and thus the rabbis in the Talmud (Yevamot 64a) felt compelled to explain the origin of the term. They associate it with the agricultural implement - the "atar" - עתר. That tool is really a big vessel that contained the wheat that was overturned on the threshing floor. What is the connection between the usage of that vessel and prayer? The rabbis say that just as this vessel is meant to be overturned, so too is prayer meant to change God from being angry to being compassionate and merciful.

A true leader should be like the "atar". A leader sometimes needs to go against the tide in order to make changes for the better. A true leader would do anything to break the wave of violence and bring about peace and security. May Abbas be prompted to reach out his hand to Netanyahu and may Netanyahu accept that hand. May they be motivated by this heinous crime to sit down in peace.