Last week I heard from a friend who worried – half seriously – that I might not be allowed into Israel the next time I travel there. A couple of weeks ago the Israeli Knesset passed a bill banning foreign nationals who support the boycott of Israel from entering its borders. The ban will target individuals who publicly call for a boycott of Israel or Israeli goods, including goods made in West Bank or East Jerusalem settlements. I do not remember (I’ll have to read over my old sermons) everything I have ever said. Is it possible that I said while speaking in public — which I have opportunity to do from time to time – that a boycott of goods made in the settlements is a just response to Israeli policy? Yes, it’s possible. In fact I’ll even ‘say’ it right now in this public blog space: “If you believe that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians living under Israeli authority is unjust and you want to respond non-violently to that injustice, go ahead and stop sending money to institutions that perpetrate that injustice.”
Will this statement make me a marked man? I hope so.
No matter the anxiety that allows us to embrace narrow views of the ‘other’ and no matter the fear that empowers us to hate and discriminate against them, we human beings must see more, we must be more. Whether the ‘other’ takes the form of refugee families seeking a new life in the United States or the U.S. citizens whose lives are continually diminished because of racial or economic injustice or they are Palestinians who live under the oppressive authority of a Jewish State … we must seek to look at those who speak, eat, feel, smell, look, dress and especially think differently than we do and count them as we would count ourselves.
In this week’s Torah portion – Vayakel/Pekudei – we end the book of Exodus with a laborious counting and noting of each and every element of the Tabernacle.
The 15th century Italian commentator, Ovadiah Sforno, teaches us in regard to such counting of sacred vessels: “ …each one of them (the articles counted) was worthy to be considered as important and to be called by its private (individual) name, not only as part of a generic group (category). This is certainly justified (regarding) each one of the holy vessels …”
It is an interesting contrast to the way that our ancestors were ‘counted’ at the beginning of Exodus, and an important reminder for us, as well. The portion begins in Egypt — in slavery. Slavery exemplifies the worst of this inability to see the divinity in the other. It is the ultimate in seeing others as things to be used or to be disregarded when their utility ends. We end Exodus in Pekudei — which derives from the Hebrew root that has to do with ‘taking a count’ or ‘taking note of’. The act of counting these vessels is a way of remembering and acknowledging their inherent worth and value. If such an approach is true of the articles of the Tabernacle, how much more so this concept is true for living beings.
This sacred counting of these vessels of the Tabernacle is a charge to us to how we count the ‘other’ among us. When the act of counting the ‘other’ in this fashion, raises the ire of those in power, I take it as a sign that it our counting is accurate, complete and essential.
On my next trip to Israel if the security at Ben Gurion airport wish to count me as one who supports non-violent means of opposing unjust treatments of Palestinians, Count Me In.