Ki Teitzei: When you go out to battle… Afghanistan

I try to keep services fresh… to not have the repetition of prayers and songs become so rote that they no longer resonate.   Lately, as I read the list of names of those In need of healing, I come to entry “the 1000’s of separated families.” I remember when it was added over the issues at the U.S. border several years back, and I’ve been wondering if we should take it off?  Has the listing lost it effectiveness by repeating it week after week, now that the issue isn’t top of mind?

It is the month of Elul, a time of introspection and self-assessment as we approach the new year.   How do we want it to be different?  What can we do now that will make it different?   What are the steps we can take, big or small, to make the world for us, and for others, better?

In last week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”…”Justice, justice, you shall pursue”… What does it mean to pursue justice?  What does this pursuit look like in our daily lives??  What do we actually need to do in the pursuit of justice?

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei begins כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ “When you take the field against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your power, and you take some of them captive…” The Torah is raising awareness of the humanitarian concerns that arise when you set out to battle.  When the battle ends, how you treat the people who remain?  This is especially apropos as the U.S. military exits Afghanistan.   Our organized community is not remaining on the sidelines.

Quoting from a Jewish Community Relations Council communication, “Whatever ours views on events leading up to this moment, the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes in Afghanistan is heartbreaking, alarming, and in need of urgent community action. Our Jewish American experience has taught us that taking in such refuges whenever possible should be a priority.”

The recent statement from HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) reads “The unfolding situation in Afghanistan is devastating. We’re watching in real time as a humanitarian crisis engulfs the country, and desperation and panic strike untold numbers of Afghans whose safety is now at extreme risk.

Because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, few options are available for those at risk of violent retaliation. Borders to neighboring countries are officially closed, and in-country refugee processing is not a possibility. HIAS is therefore pressing for large scale humanitarian evacuations for those whose lives are in danger. This includes not just Afghans who were affiliated with the U.S. mission, but also human rights activists (especially women and girls), journalists, and religious minorities.

HIAS is calling on the Biden administration to get Afghans safely to the U.S. or willing third countries for expedited processing. Through their network of affiliates, HIAS will help to ensure that newly arriving Afghans are welcomed and able to access opportunities to start their lives in safety in their new American communities.”  

How different would it have been for many of our relatives in Europe, if when the borders closed and danger was imminent, if there had been open arms to welcome them out of harm’s way?   To pursue justice means to act in the moment, not to wait, to do what is right, NOW.   Reconstructing Judaism, the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council are providing information on how to help and information that individuals and communities can take to help people in peril in Afghanistan, and to support refugees coming to the U.S. 

Returning to the question of whether to leave the 1000’s of separated families on the list, sadly, we’ll leave it for now. It is a weekly reminder that there are still families who are torn apart by politics and war. We need to act now in whatever way we can, so that someday, we’ll be able to take it off our prayers for healing.  

Earlier tonight we read Psalm 27, a prayer for the protection which is traditionally read during Elul.  May the following version, for the people of Afghanistan, be heard at the gates of heaven. 

Ken y’hiye ratzon. May it be your will. 

Psalm 27 for the People of Afghanistan
By Martha Hurwitz

How desperate do Your people need to be
To cling to a soaring plane?
Willing to choose the certainty of death
Over living with no hope of redemption?

God of Justice
Look upon the men
Whose enemies besiege them.
Raise them up to a stronghold.
Do not hand them over.

Protector of Sarah
Look upon the women
Shelter them in Your sukkah
In the secret recesses of Your tent.

God of Compassion
Look upon the children
Assailed by evil people
Their flesh devoured in the agony of war.

Maker of Peace,
Let them see Your goodness
In the land of the living.

Barukh atah Adonai, oseh haShalom.
Blessed are You, Maker of the Peace.