10/11 March 2023, 18 Adar 5783

We come out of Purim shaking off the violence and aggression however playful and we are met with Exodus 33 of Parashat Ki Tissa. This week’s portion is about love. It is about love and intimacy and the request to learn and know the others. It is Martin Buber’s seed, if you like, for his I and Thou and the understanding of true intimacy through seeing the other.

And so we stumble into this scene at Sinai when God tells Moses,

“I know you by name and you have pleased me.” 

And Moses asks “Please may I see your glory?” 

In this intimate moment between God and Moses, Moses is desperate to see, feel and experience God and God is warm towards Moses as well – and of course, it is all about love. And the message for us reading it now is how we choose to be open and part of things, and to understand that that desire to know and investigate is an expression of love.

In it, we see that Divine love triumphs over Divine anger, as Moses has no difficulty persuading God to abandon the plans for violence after the Golden Calf incident. So we see as Rabbi Professor Yochanann Muffs put it,

“Love is an act of bravery and tolerance at the same time.”

With great poignancy, this moment of Torah speaks to us now, this week, as we stand paralysed with fear and anguish at what is happening in Israel, not just that tiny land between Jordan and Egypt and Syria in the north, but the whole Jewish story that is ours here in the diaspora as well.

I speak with love even though my words may be hard for some.

The lack of knowing, of investigation and concern into the other, has possibly led to the extremists now holding power, people who once were considered too niche, too extreme to join the dialogue, who are now at the heart of the government of Israel. This is not a case of right, left, young, old. Even those at the traditional and hawkish end of the spectrum are calling for justice and what is right. We want to be awake and responsive to this moment now and to be part of this protest that seeks to protect the judiciary, democracy and human rights of Israel – and we can’t do that without love: without love for the land of Israel, ‘inspired by an age-old dream’ and all who live in it; without love for the Jewish journey and the challenge to ensure our own suffering makes us open and responsive to our neighbours; without love for the others as Torah reminds us 36 times “not to oppress the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Without love we would miss out on the extraordinary work of Tzedek Center, the NGO we are supporting through the NIF, that trains and enables collaborative work across all citizens. Without love we would miss the fact that the future of Jewish Israelis is bound up with the security and ease of their Palestinian neighbours. Without love we would miss out, as Dr Cornell West wrote “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public” and without it we are an impoverished version of ourselves.

These verses of Torah remind us of all of that. It matters.

Here is the link to the protest here in London on Sunday which I will be attending. Sometimes one needs to show up for love.

Shabbat shalom,