Rock Bottom

The conventional wisdom in recovery programs is that one has to hit rock bottom before one can start the journey back up to healthy living.

If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were a disease or addiction, it would seem that we are pretty darn close to rock bottom.  Just this past week, against the backdrop of continued terrorism by the Palestinians and an understandably violent response by Israeli police and military, we have seen sloppy attempts to re-write the history of the conflict.

First, the Palestinians – under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas whose PhD thesis was titled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism” – asked the UN to declare that the Western Wall was really part of the Al-Aksa Mosque (a/k/a the Dome of the Rock).  Somewhat miraculously, under heavy pressure from the US, the UN did not make such a declaration.  However, UNESCO did declare that the Tomb of Rachel and the Cave of the Patriarchs were both Muslim holy sites without any mention of their origins as Jewish holy sites.

Historical revisionism must have been contagious in the Middle East this week, though.  Benjamin Netanyahu, not wanting to be outdone by Abbas, declared that Hitler got the idea to murder Jews from the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem in 1941.  The only problem with that theory, of course, is that the mass murder of the Jews had already begun when the two leaders met in Berlin.

It’s bad enough that these two leaders speak past one another when they are talking about the future.  Now, they are each creating alternative versions of the past.  Could we go any lower?

Readers of the Bible often invoke the relationship between Isaac and Ishmael as an analogy for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  However, it seems to me that we might learn even more from the relationship between their mothers – Sarah and Hagar.

In this week’s Parashah, we see Sarah hit rock bottom.  After many years of infertility in her marriage with Abraham, she told him to take her servant Hagar as a wife and try to conceive with her.  Abraham and Hagar conceived a child almost immediately.

Sarah response was:  “I was slighted in her eyes (Gen. 16:5).”  She lashed out at Hagar, forcing the servant to run away.  Sarah felt lower than low.  Ultimately, Hagar returned.  The two women would have to figure out how to coexist.  Our Parashah concludes with the news that Sarah would also give birth to a son in the coming year.  Her days of waiting and despair were over.  Perhaps, Sarah’s healing could.

To be sure, Sarah and Hagar would be in conflict again.  Their sons, Isaac and Ishmael would have a difficult relationship.  But, after hitting rock bottom, they figured out a way to live with one another.

Let’s hope it happens for the descendants – the Israelis and the Palestinians – one day soon.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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