This week we witnessed the messy end of a 20-year American war in Afghanistan. This has been America’s longest war. More than 2,500 US soldiers have been killed, and over 20,000 wounded. The loss of life among the Afghan people has been far higher. Images of US helicopters evacuating panicked people at Kabul airport conjured painful memories of the American defeat in Saigon.
This week’s Torah portion begins “Ki Tetze l’Milchama el oyvecha…”, “When you go out to make war against your enemies…” Sadly, war is not new to us a Jews. War is one of humanity’s oldest practices. The narrative of the very first brothers in the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, ends in murder. Our weekly parsha concludes with the Amalekites cruelly waging war on the bedraggled Jewish refugees on-the-run from Egyptian slavery.
In the 1800’s Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz coined the phrase “The Fog of War.” There is an older Yiddish teaching “Man plans and God laughs.” (Man tracht und Gott lacht.) We Jews have long known that war is a descent into uncertainty.
According to Maimonides this week’s Torah portion contains 72 Mitzvot, more than any other portion. Maimonides teaches that mitzvot give us structure in unstructured times. Maimonides observed that the commandments of this portion fall into two categories. Mitzvahs of Tzedek (Justice) and mitzvahs of Rachamim (Compassion). The task for us is to maintain the balance between Justice and Compassion. Not to let one dominate the other, but to keep them in healthy balance. Maimonides teaches this is the clear way to live, even when life seems unclear.
Today, we are at war with a pandemic. The delta surge has increased people’s feelings of fear. At our Temple our medical advisory committee guides us to ensure we balance physical and spiritual health.
Tonight is Shabbat. We are privileged to have 10 acres of beautiful outdoor space. “Shabbat under the stars” begins at 6:15pm followed by a BBQ. In full observance of the best safety guidelines will celebrate the end of summer outdoors on our gorgeous grounds. There will be a special blessing welcoming youth home from camp and the desert will be s’mores and watermelon.
You are invited for Shabbat Dinner BBQ at the Temple tonight. We will share good food, see old friends and maybe even make new friends.
In uncertain times – let Shabbat be a certainty. I am looking forward to seeing you.
Rabbi David Wilfond