Israel on a Cloudy Day

“Israel on a Cloudy Day”
3 Iyar 5777 • Tazriah-Metzorah • April 29, 2017
Rabbi Alexander Davis


I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May
I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl
Talkin’ ’bout my girl

Much to my wife’s relief, I am not going to sing her praises to you all. I did that last night when I sang Eshet Chayil. Instead, I want to sing the praises of another that brings sunshine on a cloudy day. I am talk’n ‘bout Israel.

This past week, in between the clouds and rain, we entered the month of Iyar. The original name for the month as told in the Bible is “ziv” (1 King 6:1, 37) which means “radiance.” So how appropriate that this month we will celebrate Israel’s independence, Yom Haatzamut.

Israel does indeed radiate a brilliant light. One of our minyan leaders regularly shares updates from Israel during the daily minyan and they are inspiring. To hear about Israel’s advances in medicine, technology, agriculture, and her contributions to culture makes us proud.

And yet, as everyone knows, these wonderful things are often overshadowed in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of some in the Jewish community by dark clouds. They charge Israel with human rights violations and disproportionate use of force; they claim that Israel has stolen and colonized Arab land and established an apartheid state.

A teaching form this week’s parasha can help us put the light and shadows into perspective.

Our parasha discusses tzaraat, a skin disease. It was up to the Kohen- picture a medicine man- to diagnosis the illness. The Torah says that the kohen should examine the rash, “l’kol marey einei hakohen wherever he can see” (Lev 13:12). What does that mean, “wherever he can see?” The Mishna (Negayim 2:2-3) explains that the kohen may not look for signs tzaraat “on a cloudy day.” Neither may he perform the exam if he has poor vision or is blind in one eye. “Ein roi’in hanegaim b’yom m’unan… kohen suma b’achat mei’einav o shkaheh m’or einav lo yireh et hanegaim sheneemar l’kol marey einei hakohen.” The reason makes perfect sense. The kohen had to see clearly in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Even with all our advances in medicine, this practice still applies. But its application goes beyond the doctor’s office. And an early 20th century Romanian rabbi, Rabbi David Moshkovits, expanded the principle to how we look at others. One should not look for blemishes in the Jewish people or in a fellow Jew on a “cloudy” day, he taught. For, one who looks with impaired or limited vision may not see the blemishes clearly and therefore is not qualified to render judgment on another person.
This lesson applies to how we see the blemishes in our families, in our neighbors, in our leaders, in ourselves. And in this month of Iyar, it applies to how we view Israel. That is to say, one should not examine Israel’s tzaraat without understanding her tzarot. Her blemishes must be seen within the context of her challenges, not to dismiss them but to understand them.

Our parasha reminds us that when a healthy body develops negaim blemishes, they must be examined to then be treated. But for the diagnoses to be accurate, we need to see the blemishes clearly.

As you all know, Israel is regularly charged with blemishes. Those charges have only increased in recent years, and most strikingly, they are now being leveled by young Jews. Rabbi Olitzky spoke about this a few weeks ago. I’d only add that while those young adults see themselves a treating a disease that threatens Israel’s health, I would suggest that their diagnosis and prescription is at times clouded by their wonderful idealism, their naiveté, their privilege, and their failure to treat the whole patient.

Given Israel’s history and neighborhood, it should not surprise us that she has blemishes. I worry about them. This past week, for example, settlers verbally and physically attacked Jews who were fighting for the rights of Palestinian shepherds to graze. Putting aside whether or not the Palestinians have or don’t have those land rights, to see dozens of masked Jews hurling stones at and wielding sticks to hit other Jews is frightful. That is a blemish that needs treatment. Likewise, recently the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on human rights workers operating in the territories. That is not what a democracy does. A democracy needs watchdog organizations to keep it healthy, to look for, identify and treat blemishes.

Only one who is blind does not see the way Israel’s blemishes have metastasized and spread to more of the body and are slowly infecting Israel’s soul. At the same time, if examined without the full light of history, proper content, context and comparisons, this diagnosis is inaccurate and incomplete. We must, therefore, shine a light- the light of the history on Zionism, of Israel and of the peace process. We have to see the real, ongoing threats Israel faces, and measure the disproportionate use of forceful UN resolutions aimed at Israel.

In that case, though there are blemishes to be sure, you’d still sing out, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.” I am not talking about Gal Gadot, the new Israeli playing Wonder Woman. I am talking about a real wonder woman- Hana Mansour Khatib, an Israeli-Arab lawyer, appointed this week by Israel as the first female judge to Israel’s Islamic courts. She was appointed in opposition to conservative Muslim and ultra-orthodox Jewish voices.

There are many such stories. And we tell them not to mask a blemish but to reveal a truth. That truth becomes more clear when we shine a light on a cloudy day that reveals the historic ties of Jews to Biblical lands including those in the West Bank, a light that fully exposes the risks of handing over the territory to people who deny your right to exist, a light that uncovers the rational and need for ongoing security measures.

Shining a light on a cloudy day means understanding that the IDF doesn’t stand guard at check-points for the purpose of disrupting Palestinian lives. They stand there to effectively protect Israeli citizens from terrorists. And when they are not doing that, they are working undercover at night to provide medical care and evacuation to nearby hospitals for some 3,000 wounded Syrians refugees.
We need to tell these stories, to shine this light. That is why we feel privileged to have Israelis join us this week to mark Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. And we thank Eilat Harel and the Israel Program office for bringing soldiers from the IDF to our community this week.

“When it’s cold outside we’ve got the month of Iyar.” And we need it to remind us
“we’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.” And to remind us that we must be a light, an “or lagoim, a light unto the nations” and an “or l’um,” a light unto our own nation helping us to be healthy and holy.