Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah
January 18, 2024
8 Shevat 5784
Just yesterday, I was discussing the situation in Israel and Gaza with someone who is genuinely struggling to understand the situation. He asked, “What is so wrong about calling for a ceasefire?” On its face, it’s a reasonable question. After all, who doesn’t want to see the violence stop? Although I had (and have!) a whole bunch of answers swimming in my head, I didn’t want to overwhelm this person. So, I settled on two answers. The first answer can be summarized as, “Been there, done that!” Since Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas came to power, there have been four armed conflicts between Hamas and Israel prior to the current one. Each of those ended with a cease-fire that left Hamas in power. Each time, Hamas used the cease-fire as an opportunity to re-arm itself for the next round of hostilities. In short, it’s clear that Hamas has no interest in a long-term cessation of violence. They only want a chance to regain the element of surprise in order attack again. Why would Israel agree to that? The second answer is actually 132 answers – the hostages. There is no reason to think that Hamas will simply decide to release the hostages if Israel stops applying military pressure. This is the same terrorist organization that held Gilad Shalit for five years and only released him in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners – including Yahya Sinwar, one of the masterminds of the October 7th attack. There can be no cease-fire as long as Hamas holds these hostages. International pressure should be put on Hamas to release the hostages, and not on Israel to stop its counterattack. And then I realized that both of these answers can be found in this week’s Torah portion discussing the Exodus from Egypt. Our Torah portion, Parashat Bo, picks up after the first seven plagues. After each one, Pharaoh relented and promised to release to the Hebrew slaves. So, God halted the plague in question – just like a cease-fire. But, as anyone who has attended a Passover Seder or watched the “The Ten Commandments” can tell you, Pharaoh did not adhere to the terms of the cease-fire. He did not free the slaves. He continued behaving as he did before the plagues. Pharaoh had no intention of changing his ways. So, in our Torah portion, Moses and Aaron delivered God’s message that the next plague was coming – locusts that would cover the land and devour everything in their paths. Hoping to avoid the plague while still keeping control over the Hebrews, Pharaoh offered to let the Hebrew men go for three days in order to worship Adonai. However, that offer was insufficient. Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old; we will go with our sons and daughters (Exodus 10:9).” No one would be left behind. The story of Passover as told in our Torah portion reminds us that we’ve seen this all before. Hamas, like Pharaoh in the Torah, begs for a ceasefire, but has no intention of changing its ways. Hamas, like Pharaoh in the Torah, thinks that we will leave behind 132 souls if it means an end to the war for everyone else. Both of these outcomes are intolerable. Until Hamas relents – as Pharaoh ultimately relented – there can be no ceasefire. Israel cannot allow Hamas to stay in power and to plan its next attack. Hamas’ leadership must be removed from Gaza. Israel cannot move on until the rest of the hostages are released. Then, and only then, can we discuss a cease-fire. Shalom,RAF.