Looking to Parshat Devarim to counter generational apathy about Israel

Orrin Krublit

By Orrin Krublit

This summer I’ve had the incredible opportunity to spend time in St. Louis, as the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Summer Rabbinic Intern at Congregation B’nai Amoona. I just returned from a year studying in Jerusalem, and so it should come as no surprise that Israel has been at the forefront of my mind. 

In Parshat Devarim, Moses asks, “How can I bear, alone, the trouble of you, the burden, the bickering?” Caring about Israel during this summer has weakened me. The helplessness that my soul experiences when reading about the hundreds who have lost their lives is painful and enraging. Moses’ feeling of loneliness in the wake of such vast amounts of burden relating to Israel is something that speaks to me very intimately.

I believe that my generation, which is feeling less and less passionate about Israel, experiences this loneliness on a very deep level. After we get tired of dealing with the anger and powerlessness that comes with caring about Israel, we separate ourselves from those feelings by becoming apathetic. The question then becomes, how do we combat these same feelings that Moses felt, all those years ago?

The Torah’s answer is that Moses looks towards the people of Israel for help. He looks towards community to help share the burden and to combat his feelings of loneliness. This is a critical lesson. When we feel surrounded on all sides and want to surrender because our feelings of despair are so great, recognizing that we are not alone can be a way towards salvation. 

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Talking about a more complicated view of loving Israel, one which speaks about the moral conflict that many people experience when our loyalty to our people and our land is put in direct contrast to our concern for every person as an image of God, is essential for combating apathy. I am afraid that it is these two moral contradictions which lead to the apathy about Israel that is growing among American Jews.

The best way to combat fear, according to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, is to keep our ultimate intention clear in our minds. Commenting on Deuteronomy 1:21, which ends with Moses imploring the people of Israel not to be afraid when they take possession of the land, Rabbi Nachman asks, “What should a person do if he desires to do a mitzvah, but cannot?” He concludes, “The answer is that he must never give up on the desire to do the mitzvah. If he remains steadfast, the opportunity will present itself.” If we care about the survival of Israel, we can’t give into apathy. My prayer is that we remain steadfast in our love for Israel, and in our struggle to love Israel, even when it would be easier to give up and sink into indifference. 

Orrin Krublit is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Summer Rabbinic Intern at Congregation B’nai A moona.