The Sins of the Fathers – Sermon for August 29, 2014

It is so good to be back home, worshiping in our holy place, together once again after eight weeks. While we so value our relationship with our sister congregation, Har Sinai, and are grateful for their cooperation in conducting joint summer services, it is still lovely to bask in the companionship of those committed to this sacred congregation. I just regret that Temple Emanuel and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, in particular, are no longer participating in this century old Baltimore tradition. Before I go on to more serious matters, just a piece of new information about our local Jewish community. I learned this past week that Temple Emanuel put its building up for sale for $3,087,500. I do not have any further information but if you do, please share it with me following this service.

Since I last spoke to you six weeks ago, the world seems to be going up in flames. ISIS is still carving out more territory for itself in what used to be Syria and Iraq. Word came to us just today that this terrorist organization, trying to create a new caliphate in the Middle East, recently beheaded 250 Syrian soldiers. This is in addition to beheading American journalist James Foley and murdering thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Shiites, Yezidis, Christians, and Kurds.  It is forcing the conversion of Shiite and Yezidi young women to Sunni Islam and forcing these women, some as young as eight years old, to marry terrorist fighters. They are also enforcing the dhimmi, enforced taxation of nonSunni Muslims, on everyone else in its territory. The United States is in the process of reengaging in Iraq with the hope of stopping and then reversing ISIS’ gains. Russian forces are advancing into the Ukraine, hoping to carve out the Eastern Ukraine and add it to Russia. Putin knows that NATO will not go to war with Russia over the Ukraine and will lie and deceive until he gets what he wants. Libya is in chaos, Ebola is spreading through West Africa, and our country seems to be impotent in its ability to stabilize the world.

Of course, our attention has been riveted to events in Israel all summer. As almost 5,000 Hamas rockets rained down upon Israel, our hearts were united with those of Jews everywhere in support of our people. We trembled each time we learned that a rocket hit a house or a car. While the Iron Dome anti-rocket system preserved thousands of lives, it is not perfect and occasionally missed a rocket that landed in a populated area. Just two days ago, I heard our representative in Ashkelon, Sigal Arieli, report on the effect of the rockets on our sister city just eight kilometers north of Gaza. Over ten percent of Hamas’ rockets were launched at Ashkelon. Iron Dome shot down 137 of them, while most landed in fields or other unpopulated areas.  Several hit houses, causing horrific devastation. I am going to Ashkelon in two weeks with a fifteen person mission from the Associated. I will better report to you what I see when I return.

The Europeans have turned against Israel. In the guise of anti-Zionism, seventy years after the Shoah, Jew hatred has once again reared its ugly head. AntiSemitism is no longer forbidden in polite society. It is open and vitriolic. The difference is that governments are now protecting Jews instead of rounding us up and putting us on trains to the East. Jews have been murdered in Belgium and attacked in France. Only police intervention prevented a mob, predominantly composed of Arabs, from overrunning a synagogue on Shabbat morning in Paris. The MP representing Bradford in England declared his district an “Israel Free Zone,” saying Israelis and Israeli products were not welcome there. Why anyone, Jew or non-Jew, would want to visit Bradford is another story.  Jewish students returning to college will be confronted with a great deal of anti-Israel propaganda. We will see an increased effort by the BDS crowd, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions people, to punish Israel for using “disproportionate force” in its war against Hamas. What they and the Europeans really want is for Israel to just disappear.  In this latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, 68 Israelis were killed, 64 of them soldiers. Over two thousand Palestinians were killed, many of them women and children. Israel did everything possible to reduce civilian deaths, even warning residents of neighborhoods to evacuate thirty minutes before a strike. The problem was that Hamas used women and children as human shields, setting up its rocket launchers in civilian neighborhoods and storing rockets in homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques. Hamas wanted the world to see Israel as causing the deaths of countless innocents. Of course, the Western media played right into the hands of Hamas, broadcasting images of dead and maimed children. Israel had no choice but to try to destroy every rocket launcher and to kill every Hamas terrorist. It is deeply troubling that Hamas has such little regard for its own people that it deliberately places them in harms’ way.

I have entitled this sermon “The Sins of the Fathers” because hundreds of Palestinian children literally died due to the sins of the Hamas political and military leadership, the “fathers” of Gaza society. The Torah tells us in Exodus, chapter 20, verse 5, that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, punishing them until the third and fourth generation. This is explicitly stated again in chapter five of the Book of Deuteronomy, in which God punishes children for the idolatry of their parents. When parents put their own political agenda before the lives of their children, that is an idolatrous act. When parents place their children in danger, that is an idolatrous act. The greatest gift God has given us is the lives of our children. To deliberately sacrifice one’s own children for the sake of political expediency is an affront to God and an act of idolatry. Israel is not guilty for the deaths of these poor children. The blame falls squarely on the heads of the Hamas leadership which cavalierly sent rockets into Israel, hoping to inflict massive civilian casualties, the same leadership that squandered hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money building subterranean tunnels, hoping to infiltrate Israeli towns and settlements and wreck destruction upon women and children. What Hamas did is to sin against God and their own people. Shame on them, not just for what they have done to Israel, but what they have done, and are continuing to do, to their own people.

We pray that this situation will soon come to an end and that Palestinian children will no longer be victimized by their fathers.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom

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