25 May 2011 | 21 Iyar 5771
“Wise people, be careful about what you say…” (Avot de – Rabbi Natan)
This statement offered by our Sages more than one thousand years ago reflects a timeless, all–encompassing truth which we too frequently forget. I have been reminded of our Sages’ wisdom this week as I have read analysis of President Obama’s speech at the State Department last Thursday and heard his reinforcement of the message last Sunday at the AIPAC Policy Conference. At Shabbat services this past weekend, some of our congregants shared their highly critical views of President Obama’s words.
Both the analysis and the comments some of you have shared with me reveal a tendency that characterizes much of our thinking well beyond Middle East peace–making. We tend to have partisan political views and established perspectives that are seldom open to review and potential change. “This is what I think, and this is the truth. Period.” Some of our leaders and political commentators speak in exaggerated terms, in part, because it is those strong, polarizing images that gain the most media attention. We, in turn, repeat their words because if those leaders or commentators said it, it, whatever “it” is, is true. In the end, this circular process serves to preclude reflection and attention to the power of rhetoric that would otherwise lead to more reasonable discourse.
Did the views that President Obama expressed last Thursday and Sunday represent a shift from previous US Administrations’ Middle East peace–making policies? Do they represent a substantive change that may be harmful to Israel? Has President Obama “thrown Israel under the bus?” Each of us is entitled to our views. But I hope we will develop those views on the basis of the Administration’s actual words and actions. I hope we will reach conclusions based on thoughtful analysis that engages our own thinking and grappling. And, most importantly in this sensitive period for Israel and her neighbors, I hope that our rhetoric will always show respect for the office of the President of the United States even when we may not agree or even respect its present occupant.
Always remember the wisdom of our Sages, “Wise people, be careful about what you say…”
On a related note, I returned late last week from several days spent in Israel largely at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs learning from members of Israel’s superb diplomatic corps and dialoguing with members of the Knesset. I was part of a delegation of thirty rabbis representing all three major Jewish denominations brought to Israel by the Foreign Ministry and World Zionist Organization. In the weeks ahead, I will be sharing information and perspectives I gained in what I can only say was a “packed experience.” I hope you will read my sermon from this past Shabbat and that it will stimulate your own thinking.
One final note. I have just returned with more than twenty of our congregants from the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. For three days, more than 10,000 people gathered to learn more about how to nurture the US – Israel bond, support Israel’s security needs and lobby members of our Georgia congressional delegation. It is a unique and unforgettable experience. Right now and through next Tuesday, May 31, you can sign up for the 2012 Policy Conference (March 4 - 6) at a vastly reduced rate by clicking this link. I hope you will consider joining us.