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03/29/2019 01:52:16 PM


Rabbi Steven Suson

This past week, more than 18,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. I was one of them. In these days of deep partisan bickering and societal divisiveness, the message of unity that emanated from the conference was inspiring and powerful.

Parashat Shemini describes the ceremonial sacrifices that were offered at the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Aaron was commanded to offer “a bull-calf for a sin-offering” and the Children of Israel were told to offer “a he-goat for a sin-offering…” Why were they bringing sin offerings? For what sins would these animals atone, and why did Aaron offer the first sacrifice, but not the second?

According to the Midrash, Aaron, who had been intimately involved in the creation of the idolatrous Golden Calf, must offer the sacrifice which would atone for that sin. The he-goat, on the other hand, would atone for a sin that had occurred many years beforehand—the sale of Joseph on the part of his brothers into slavery—an act which they hid from their father Jacob by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph’s coat in blood.

The he-goat sacrifice, which atoned for the sin that tore the fabric of the family unity apart, was offered not by Aaron who personified peace and unity, but by the people themselves. As the Tabernacle in the desert and later the Temple in Jerusalem were meant to serve as symbols not only of faith and devotion to God, but also as places of unity and brotherhood among the Children of Israel. Only when that sin had been atoned could the people stand together in the structure dedicated to national and communal unity.
For decades, support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has served as the common goal that unifies not only the Jewish community, but the American political establishment. This year, we find ourselves in the throes of a bitter political season and a climate that discourages political leaders from agreeing on any issue. For this reason, we must marvel at the strong, proud support that we heard for Israel this week from members of congress on both sides of the aisle. Israel has been—and must continue to be—a source of unity within our community. Israel never has been, nor can ever be a partisan issue. Any attempt to paint a specific political party as “stronger” or “weaker” on Israel not only belies the tremendous bipartisan support that Israel receives throughout the U.S. government; such efforts weaken the entire movement, and pose the greatest danger to our national cause to support, protect and defend the Jewish state.
Before the Children of Israel could unite around the Sanctuary, they first had to atone for a sin of disunity which divided them. We, as a community, must commit ourselves to avoid this same grave mistake as we move forward this year, knowing that we must protect and defend Israel only when we stand together as a united community. 

This year there were 18,000 people in Washington. I hope you'll join me next year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Suson

Sun, March 29 2020 4 Nisan 5780