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Sefer Bereshit and War in Israel…A Further View of Rashi’s Commentary

This week, we begin again as we turn to the opening of Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis.

Yet, we not only begin Torah anew, but also as we begin re-reading the commentary of Rashi, beloved eleventh century commentator from France. In his opening comment on Torah, Rashi asks why does Torah begin with Creation? He makes clear that it is to demonstrate that the entire world belongs to God – and lest the nations of the world come and say to the People of Israel – you have stolen the land of Israel, the people can respond that the land was given rightfully to them.

:כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁל הַקָּבָּ”ה הִיא, הוּא בְרָאָהּ וּנְתָנָהּ לַאֲשֶׁר יָשַׁר בְּעֵינָיו, בִּרְצוֹנוֹ נְתָנָהּ לָהֶם, וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ נְטָלָהּ מֵהֶם וּנְתָנָהּ לָנוּ

Why does Rashi transform a universal moment of creation into a particular moment connected to Israel?

It is because of the horrific times in which Rashi lived – during the Crusades – in which Jews were powerless, persecuted and exiled from their Homeland. Rashi sought to remind his people that they have a Home with a capital “H”.

Our Home is under attack. We awoke on the morning of Shabbat and Simchat Torah at 7:30am to the blaring of air raid sirens in Jerusalem.  Moments later, the details of the barbaric attack that Hamas terrorists were unleashing on Israel would trickle in.

Six times we ran in and out of our sealed room – huddling together with our three kids, Adir, Rachel and Shira. Later on we would hear the news reports of families blockading themselves in their sealed rooms in Sderot, Be’eri, Alumim, Nir Oz – hearing the gunfire of terrorists in their own homes; children witnessed parents killed . . .and 260 young adults at a music festival in the Negev were slaughtered.

One of those present was an elementary school classmate of my daughter Rachel who is now 18. Hirsh Goldberg-Polin – the nephew of dear friends — was taken hostage into Gaza. We pray for his well being (he was seriously wounded from a grenade thrown at him) and the return of all 150 hostages held in Gaza.

In Israel, there are two degrees of separation among each and every one of us. Let it be clear that the Israeli people are united. Day and night we are assembling packages for families and soldiers in the South. Yesterday, I made a shiva (bereavement) visit to the family of a lone soldier, Netanel Young, killed in battle.

We are defending what is rightfully our Homeland – four thousand years of Jewish history & connection will never be denied or undermined. How blessedly different is our reality from the world in which Rashi lived!

75 years of a remarkable country; the Jewish people has returned livnot u’lehibanot – to build and be built; and we have an army to defend ourselves — and defend we will.

Contributing to Israeli causes supporting families struck by the horrors of Hamas’ barbarity is the greatest gift you can give all of us living through this very dark chapter in the State of Israel.

Send messages to everyone you know and love in Israel – your words of support and love mean the world to us; by doing so you are affirming the unbreakable bonds of Jewish peoplehood; and you are stating clearly, every moral and ethical human being in this world must raise their voices in support of Israel.

עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו – התקווה בת שנות אלפיים להיות עם חופשי בארצנו ארץ ציון וירושלים

We have not and WILL NOT lose hope – in this hope of 2,000 years—to be a free people in our homeland, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.

May we all know better days ahead.                                        עם ישראל חי

With love & a communal embrace!

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, an accomplished educator and artist, brings decades of experience in development to his position. From 1999 to 2008, he served as JTS’s Senior Rabbinic Fellow based in NY and Florida, responsible for cultivating and expanding the donor base and teaching adult learning study groups throughout the United States. From 2009, he served as Director of Israel Programs for JTS working closely with rabbinical and cantorial students to significantly enrich their Israel experience.

He is a founding partner of Kol HaOt studio project in Jerusalem’s Artist Lane — which weaves the arts deeply into Jewish learning.

Rabbi Berkowitz is the author and illuminator of the widely used The Lovell Haggadah published by Schechter in 2008.

Matt is a Wexner Graduate fellow alumnus and serves on the faculty of The Wexner Heritage Program.

He is married to Nadia Levene and the proud father of three children.

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