As I started reading this week's portion, Parashat B'shalach, I could not believe its implication for what is currently happening in Israel. Exodus 13:19 tells us: "And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had exacted an oath from the Children of Israel, saying, 'God will be sure to take notice of you: Then you shall carry up my bones from here with you.'" Oy vey! What a burial site they chose! One that a few thousand years later would become the center of friction and violence between Arabs and Jews and would cause the death of dozens of young Israeli soldiers.
There is no archaeological proof or scientific evidence that this is truly the site where Joseph is buried. Why do we need to endanger the lives of young soldiers who are protecting the so-called Tomb of Joseph? This site, located at the edge of the city of Nablus, has become a yeshiva established by the extreme right settlers to strengthen their claim to all of Eretz Yisrael.
Many Israelis, myself included, have supported the idea of closing the site to save lives and promote peace. I was very glad to hear that the Chief Sephardic Rabbi issued a halachic rule that the site may be closed forpiku-ach nefesh, "saving lives." I heaved a sigh of relief when, on the day after Yom Kippur, it was indeed closed. However, I, like many millions of Jews, was outraged by the savage destruction and burning of the site. That action shattered my hope for peace and coexistence between Arabs and Jews.
The main theme in Parashat B'shalach is the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. There is a midrash that teaches us that the sea did not part until a brave man named Nachshon jumped into the water. Then the sea parted and the others followed him. Each generation needs a Nachshon of its own. I consider the late Yitzchak Rabin to be the Nachshon of our time. He jumped into the stormy sea of peace, hoping to reach the other shore, but he unfortunately drowned. He drowned in the raging waves of sinat achim, "hatred of brothers," caused by the extreme-right politicians in Israel and by the waves of sinat Yisrael, "hatred of Israel," caused by the terror organizations Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Those who followed Rabin are still struggling in the waves. It took the ancient Israelites forty years to traverse the wilderness of Sinai after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. But it took the modern Israelites more than forty years of wandering in the wilderness of violence and war just to arrive at the shores of the "Sea of Peace." A few months ago they almost succeeded in reaching the other shore, but the unpredictable climate of the Middle East drew them back into the stormy waters.
As we sing in "Hatikvah," Od lo av'da tikvateinu, "Our hope is not yet lost," we may yet see our yearning for peace realized in our own time. When that day comes, then we can sing in our daily prayer the Mi Chamochah that first appears in this parashah: "Who is like You, Adonai, among the celestials;/ Who is like You, majestic in holiness,/ Awesome in splendor, working wonders!" (Exodus 15:11) Let us fervently hope that we can add the words v'Oseh Hashalom, "Maker of Peace."
Cantor Shlomo Bar-Nissim is the cantor emeritus at Temple Beth El in Closter, NJ.