Rabbi’s Weekly Message

Rabbi’s Message, June 14, 2024


Illustration: Edward Armitage, “Samson”

            Does the title of this message trigger some literary association? Why do I call this sermon “eyeless in Gaza”?  The reference is to the poem by John Milton about the biblical hero, Samson.  In Samson Agonistes, set at the end of his life, when Samson was the blinded and enslaved prisoner of the Philistines in Gaza, Milton gave these lines to the Israelite champion:
… Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find 
, lines 38-42)Samson Agonistes(
 yoke…    PhilistianHimself in bonds under 
 at the Mill with slaves,GazaEyeless in 
 [ 40 ]
            Thanks to our lectionary, the attention of the religiously-engaged Jewish world is drawn to Samson this week. Because he was a “Nazirite”, and the Torah portion for this week contains the laws regulating the conduct of those volunteer leaders (Numbers 6:1-21), the Rabbis chose for their haftarah (supplemental biblical reading) the narrative of the birth of Samson (Judges 13). We read of his birth, but his entire career is called to mind, including his tragic final chapter. Captive of the Philistine, he achieves retribution against them, but only at the cost of his own life.

Illustration: Victor Mature as the blinded and bound Samson, and Hedy Lamar as Delilah, in the Cecil de Mille film, 1949

            In the Bible, it is Samson who is eyeless in Gaza.  But who is eyeless in Gaza today?
            I offer three answers: first, the Israeli captives are eyeless in Gaza.  Second, the Palestinian citizens, so badly misled by the terrorist Hamas leaders who use them as cannon fodder, are eyeless in Gaza.  And third, the majority of the world, with its slogan of “All eyes on Rafah”, has allowed itself to become eyeless in Gaza.
            When Israeli forces liberated the four captives, two of the kidnapped victims were cowering, fearing that the Israelis had come to kill them.  This was the result of the brainwashing they had been subjected to by their Hamas captors.  Our abused brothers were then eyeless in Gaza.  But for them, at least, we can thank God for the miracle of opening the eyes of the blind.
            When the news cameras dwell on the devastation in Gaza, it is designed to show the plight of the citizens.  I will set aside the fact that some of those same citizens were cheering on the Hamas kidnappers and mass murderers on October 7. Even those who were not actively cheering on Hamas then are suffering now.  But we must remember that Palestinians in Gaza would not be suffering if Hamas simply agreed to live side by side with an independent Israel.  None of this devastation would be taking place if Hamas had accepted the concession made by Israel in 2005 as the starting point for meaningful coexistence. Remember that Israel pulled out of Gaza completely, dismantling its few settlements at great and wrenching social cost. Israel even left its profitable greenhouses intact, as a gift to the Palestinians, so that they could move to a life of peaceful economic relations with the broader world. So those civilians, too, by accepting the vain promises of Hamas and by joining their ranks, are self-blinded. No Philistines have blinded them.  They blind themselves. It will take more than an ophthalmologic miracle to end their blindness.  It will take spiritual cardiology.  They will need a fundamental and multi-generational change of heart.          
            And this leads us to the third group who are eyeless in Gaza.  Sadly, this is much or even most of the world. All of the well-meaning, or perhaps not so well-meaning, protesters, many of whom are college students, chanting their desire for a cease-fire in Gaza: do they know who is preventing it?           
            By now, it should be clear to all who are not prejudiced by their ideological hatred of Zionism and their antisemitic bigotry: the delay in a cease fire is the goal of the Hamas leadership.  It is not the goal of Palestinian citizens.
            On June 10, we witnessed a rare occurrence in the United Nations: a United States proposal for a cease fire and a return of hostages passed the Security Council, and Israel voted along with the other member states to indicate its approval.  Russia abstained but the resolution passed 14-0.  Even Algeria voted for it, stating, “Palestinian lives matter.”
            How sharp a focus we now have: Israel and Algeria are in agreement. Only Hamas refuses to say yes.
            The Hamas response was to add a host of new conditions designed to prevent any progress toward a cease fire.
            Why would Hamas do that? The answer is obvious: Hamas does not care to spare the lives of Palestinians.  It wants to use their deaths as an instrument to achieve its greater purpose, which remains the destruction of Israel.
            Please remember that Hamas was created because Palestinian rejectionists were dissatisfied with the previously dominant terrorist organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization.  Hamas felt that PLO was getting soft, and that it might accept coexistence with Israel.
            Please remember that Hamas fought a brief but real civil war in Gaza to seize control of the territory from the Palestine Authority. Ever since then, it has used it as a launching pad for attacks on Israel.
            Hamas has never wavered from its objective. That is what the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” means.  There is no Israel left if Palestine extends from the river to the sea.
            Israel attempted for a generation to deter Hamas with limited counterstrikes.  Israel has always offered “quiet for quiet”. 
            Hamas has commandeered food meant for the citizens.  Hamas has commandeered concrete meant for civilian construction and used it to create the devil’s labyrinth of tunnels from which it continues to wage war against Israel.
            Hamas has deliberately used human shields. This is not a temporary expedient. This is the essence of their strategy.  They want to kill Israelis from behind those shields, and they want to use the deaths that come when Israel strikes back as a weapon to isolate Israel until it can be weakened and then destroyed.
            When Israel urged Gazans to leave certain areas, Hamas tried to block them. From start to finish, the death of Palestinians is a weapon in the Hamas arsenal. 
            But much of the world steadfastly ignores that.
            That is the worst blindness of all.
            Samson died with the cry, “let my life end along with the Philistines!” But Israel has a mandate to live--- to protect its citizens from the enemies ringing it—and despite everything, to plant seeds for a peaceful future.  Now, that future seems far, far off.   But there can only be peace tomorrow if Israel can neutralize its would-be murderers  today.
            May God grant strength to our people, the strength that can lead, ultimately, to genuine peace. Amen.