No one here with clean hands

Dear coworkers,

It was an afterthought really, as we drove to the airport on Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of our ten-day trip through Kurdistan, northern Iraq. We were going right through the little town where Birhat and his family lived. Five years had passed since his young parents scraped together everything they had to send their profoundly disabled baby boy to Israel for heart surgery. They wanted to do everything they could to extend his life, even after doctors warned that heart repair would not improve his neurological condition; Birhat would likely spend his whole life lying on the floor, unable to walk, talk or feed himself.

And that’s the way we found him this week, with his mother still lovingly and faithfully tending to him:

Birthat and motherBirhat’s mother expressed no bitterness or regret. She seemed to love her son not despite his weakness, but because of his weakness. And like every other family we visited, she sent us on our way rejoicing:

waving goodbyeI thought of Birhat again this morning, as a small group of us hobbled out of a breakfast meeting in Jordan, as we await the arrival of the next child from Kurdistan. We are the lame and the blind, whether in body or in spirit. How mysterious and how marvelous that God would choose us through whom to perform his work. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, Paul wrote:

God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not,
to bring to nothing things that are,
so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.

If there be any hope in this world that we can get free from our foolish pride, and effectively share the word of God across cultures, it lies with those who know that they know that they are unworthy. If there be any hope for reconciliation and peace in this world, it lies with those who will earnestly search their own hearts before they judge the heart of another.

Tonight Israel entered one of the somberest Memorial Days in its history, and at the Western Wall the IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi–not a religious man–set such a godly example of what true humility looks like:

Halevi speaking

“As the commander of the Israel Defense Forces during the war, I bear responsibility for the fact that the IDF failed in its mission to protect the citizens of the State of Israel on October 7. I feel its weight on my shoulders every day, and in my heart, I fully understand its meaning,” he says.

“I am the commander who sent your sons and daughters to the battle from which they did not return, and to the posts from which they were kidnapped,” Halevi says, in reference to the October 7 onslaught and the ongoing ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“I carry with me every day the memory of the fallen, and I am responsible for answering the sharp questions that keep you awake,” he says.

“I did not know all the fallen, but I will never forget them. I did not have time to visit their homes, but I will always be committed to you — the parents, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, spouses, grandfathers and grandmothers,” he continues.

“I stand humbly in the face of your bravery to stand up to the pain, to find the strength in everything in the shadow of the heavy loss, and to bring new meaning into the void that opened up,” Halevi says.

A voice of similar integrity appeared this week on the Palestinian side, in a self-published and often profane essay “50 Completely True Things” from a previously-unknown commentator named Mo Husseini. He’s a distant relative of the infamous mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini, who starting 100 years ago laid so much of the foundation of hatred and bloodshed between Muslims and Jews in the holy land:

Mo Husseini

Many of the essay’s short declarations refute some of the shibboleths of partisans: He undercuts, for example, the far-left assertion that the conflict is a clash between white supremacists and people of color, and mocks the far-right Zionist view that the Palestinians have no legitimate claims to a state of their own.

As for the war, Husseini condemns the October 7 massacre — in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists butchered 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapped over 250 more to the Gaza Strip — and writes that Hamas has earned “every…thing that the Israeli military throws at them.”

At the same time, he laments the enormous toll on civilians in Gaza. “What is happening in Gaza to civilians is…awful, and not the smartest thing for Israel to do, and some aspects of Israeli military activity may be war crimes, and it doesn’t have to be genocide for it to be tragic,” he writes…

“It felt like a novel Palestinian voice that I wanted to amplify — his publicly affirming Israel’s existence and Hamas’s atrocities, along with the failures of all sides,” responded a Massachusetts rabbi.

“I chose to post it because it speaks to the broad center, which I believe is both the ‘silent majority’ of Zionists and Palestinians and the only possible way out of this conflict,” wrote a Jewish educator…

“This idea that the Israelis are just going to have to pack up and leave starts to be a symbolic struggle against reality,” [Husseini] added. “There’s no one here with clean hands and in the context of that, I think it’s incumbent on people to find a way that acknowledges reality.”

Have you noticed that the praiseworthy actors I’ve just described are outside of our community of faith, yet behaving more humbly and righteously than we? That they have the courage to acknowledge their own wrongdoing, and proclaim the biblical truth that there’s no one here with clean hands?

An otherwise excellent video just published on the spiritual roots of the Israel-Gaza war, from a messianic ministry in Israel, misses the mark widely on this point: “You have to pick a side. You can’t be neutral on this one. This is pure evil against pure justice.”

Friends, imagine going into marriage counseling with one partner viewing himself or herself as pure justice and the other as pure evil. What hope is there for reconciliation? The people of Messiah must be those who remove the log from their own eye before the speck from the eye of their brother.

Yesterday’s Torah reading makes clear that many nations were driven out of this land due to their abhorrent sins before the people of Israel entered. But in the same breath it makes clear that the same fate will befall Israel if they share in the same sins. (Did you see the odd story this week, that hornets–one of God’s agents to drive out those nations–attacked and seriously injured Israeli soldiers in Gaza?)

The war against Hamas is just and should be prosecuted to the end. They murdered women, children and the elderly based on the lie that all Israelis were guilty and deserving of death.

Now Israel is in danger of falling into the same sin. Extremists are arguing that all Gazans are guilty and deserving of death. There has been chaos this week on the highways of Israel as protesters attempt to keep food from reaching the population of Gaza:

gaza videoGod help us to be those humble, clear-eyed people who know that there’s no one here with clean hands. The word of God calls us all to repentance.

And friends, I’ll close with one opportunity for us to take practical action to show that the lives of Palestinians are as precious to God as the lives of Jews. Somehow we’re still holding to our new guideline in 2024 to find sponsors before any non-emergent heart surgeries. One-year-old Osaid from Hebron is already in the Sheba Medical Center and scheduled for surgery on Wednesday.

osaid sleeping

We’ve had a grant for half of his discounted surgery cost, but about $4000 is still lacking.

Here’s one more pearl from this week’s Torah reading: You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity…for there the LORD commands the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).