For the first time in three years official representatives of Israel and Palestine are sitting down to engage in formal discussions about creating parameters for peace. We do not have to look very far to find those who think such an endeavor meaningless, hopeless or even dangerous. Cynics question the sincerity of either side’s intentions toward peace, pundits warn that very little movement is possible and then there are those who tell us the talks themselves are too little (Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talk Charade) or too much (Christian Israel-Backers Blast Obama on Peace). If this most recent round of talks were a horse race, the filly called ‘Peace’ might make the odds of a long shot look good. Forget about betting on ‘Peace’, is it even worthwhile watching the race?
Admittedly, the more that the current situation between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people continues the less optimistic I become about a resolution (even) in the near-distant future. Each side continues to become more and more entrenched in its position – building walls (both physical and psychological) between one another. Peace seems like an unattainable, naive abstraction. Reality is too messy, disjointed and plain unfair. Should we just batten down the hatches and defend ourselves against those who would threaten and take what is ours?
I came across a verse in this week’s Torah portion that – while I am sure that I have read it before – surprised me. This week’s portion, Re’eh, continues recounting Moses’ final speeches to the Israelites. This week Moses is reviewing various laws that relate to preserving the community’s holy place and helping to create a community in which holiness is cultivated. As Moses speaks to the people about being aware of and caring for the poor and needy in the community, he tells them: “There will never cease to be needy ones in your land, this is why I command you to open your hand to the poor and needy … “ (Deuteronomy 15:11) Never?! For all the talk and promise of covenant; for all of the possibilities in redemption from slavery … I was surprised by this non-utopian, messy, gray vision for the society that they will create. I find two important ideas in this statement: (1) An acknowledgement that no matter what the Israelites might do – their community will always have those in need, those who lack. It will be messy, imperfect and unfair. (2) Despite the messiness, imperfection and unfairness the Israelites are still (choose your own word here:) expected/obligated/commanded to confront it and do something about it. In the face of the size of the task at hand (in this case, hunger and homelessness), it is not acceptable to resign oneself to impotence.
Is it irony? Paradox? A sense of divine humor? Or, maybe it is just a Jewish way of seeing the world. No matter how dire or insurmountable before us the iniquity in the world may seem, we cannot stop opening our hands, our minds or our hearts to those whose lives are impacted by these iniquities. With this nudge from Torah, I will pay attention to the discussions between Israelis and Palestinians. While I will be all too aware of the messiness of our situation, I will also strive to to see the possibilities.