Saturday, 19 November 2011

Am I a resident or an alien?

 Some words from Shabbat: AJEX Shabbat.

When Jewish people come together we try to find some message from the Torah which is applicable to the events of this week.
The Torah speaks to me…..this means that we believe that the Torah and its values are everlasting therefore it must have some association and relevance with my life. 
This morning we read in the Torah about the death of Sarah, the Matriarch of the Jewish people. Avraham comes to Chevron to mourn her passing and to purchase a burial place for his beloved wife:
The burial site would be the cave of Machpelah which is still today a place sacred and revered by both Muslims and Jews
He approaches the inhabitants of the land, the Hitites with the following statement:
Ger VeToshav anochi imachem
“I am a stranger and a resident with you-grant me an estate for a burial site with you, in order that I may bury my dead from before me”.
These seem to be strange words- almost paradoxical
Ger VeToshav anochi imachem
I am a stranger and a resident with you.
What does Avraham mean when he says to the Hitites that he is a stranger but at the same time he is a resident? Either, you’re one or the other, but can you be both?
On the simple geographical level perhaps Avraham was saying that he was originally born elsewhere in Charan, outside  Canaan- he is a Ger- a foreigner- a stranger but now he is a resident- because he has been living over here for some time. Simply put, he’s saying: “You know I might not have a right to purchase this property because I was born elsewhere. However, I have been resident here in Canaan for a few years so perhaps you should consider that fact”.

On a deeper level these words could mean that Avraham, now after the passing of his dear wife Sarah, realised the reality of his own existence and mortality – that we come through this world as strangers, just passing through, we’re not here in this world forever- and it is only in the next world that there is real permanence. And this is what Avraham is saying: “Ger Vetoshav- I am a stranger in this world but the place where I will truly reside is in the next world…and I’m just passing through”.

Or perhaps Avraham was referring to the condition of the Jewish way of life in exile that throughout the existence of the Jewish people in the diaspora the Jew has this double tension; on the one hand the Jew must not lose touch with his identity, the Jew must remain a Jew and not assimilate, vanish into the melting pot. The Jew has the values of Torah and his traditions to uphold, but then on the other hand there is the need to be a loyal subject or citizen of the country.
Indeed it was Jeremiah after the Temple had been destroyed and the Jewish people had been led into Babylon that he sent the following advice to his people:
Vedirshu et shalom hair asher higleti etchem shamah. “And you shall seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and entreat G-d on its behalf”.
Today based on this statement we still offer up a prayer every Shabbat for the Queen because we are living here, and this is our country.
Ger VeToshav anochi imachem- I am a stranger and a resident with you. On the one hand the Jew remains strong and passionate about Judaism, on the other hand the Jew remains a loyal member of the State. Both are compatible with each other and complement one another. There is the double role of the Jew, the Jew who is the particularist involved in Judaism and its values, but then there is the Universalist message of Judaism. I am fully integrated and part of the wider society.

But it hasn’t always been good news for the Jews in this country.
Several months ago a programme was shown on TV called Bodies in a well. Whilst excavating the foundations of a new shopping centre, fifteen bodies were found thrown down an ancient well in Norwich from the thirteenth century. The DNA testing of five of the bodies found that they were most certainly  Jews and that it must have been a situation where the general population ganged up against this Jewish family and literally threw them down a well. The bodies remained there untouched until they were found in 2004.
And this was not an isolated incident of anti Semitism in this country there are countless stories of blood libel, accusations and in 1190, six hundred prominent Jews in York were locked up in the Cliffords Tower, committed suicide rather than be forcefully converted out of the faith by the mob who had gathered against them.
And in 1292 the Jews were expelled.
So in light of that you could read again another interpretation about  the nature of Jewish existence
Ger Vetoshav anochi imachem
I am a stranger and a resident with you- Even though I have lived in this country I remained a stranger- through the persecution and torment of millennia!- and that’s what anti Semitism and racism creates.

So my friends we commemorate today the many people who gave their lives fighting for King and country- we must also not forget the many Jews-60000 who also fought for this country during the second world war.
For what were they fighting?
I believe they were fighting for the freedoms that we have today that we tend to take for granted. Thank G-d we are living in a country where we are free to practise our religion. I am free to come to shul every day to pray and study Torah. I am free to walk in the street without fear of persecution-even though I am quite openly Jewish. We are all free regardless of religion or colour to live our lives in peace. And we are free to vote and democratically challenge and to speak our minds
All these freedoms are here because people fought and gave their lives so that we could have a better life….
Therefore our mission must be to live upright and good lives- that does justice to their memory.
Tehei zichram baruch

May their memory be for a blessing. Amen

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