One of the Books I have been reading while on sabbatical is Nine Essential Things I Have Learned About Life by Rabbi Harold Kushner. In the first chapter he explores his theology and the ways in which his belief in God has changed in the years since he was ordained. Toward the end of that chapter he writes:
God’s role is not to make our lives easier, to make the hard things go away, or to do them for us. God’s role is to give us the vision to know what we need to do, to bless us with the qualities of soul that we will need in order to do them ourselves, no matter how hard they may be, and to accompany us on that journey.
As I read this powerful statement, I was reminded of a news article I had read just a few days before. The Israeli government had ordered the deportation of 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.
A number of El Al pilots announced they would not participate in such deportations. And, while their decisions were powerful, it was the REASONS for those decisions that has stuck with me. One pilot, Yoel Piterbarg, explained his decision this way:
The State of Israel is populated mainly by Jews who were in their distant and recent past refugees in countries [around] the world. Most of them went through the Holocaust, many were forcibly expelled from their countries, and many emigrated voluntarily to better their situation to better countries that agreed to accept and care for them.
It is precisely us, the Jews, who must be attentive, empathic, moral and public opinion leaders in the world to deal with the immigration of refugees who suffered and suffer in their countries of origin.
He made clear that, while he does not advocate uncontrolled migration, he believes asylum-seekers who are already in Israel deserve compassion. As he put it,
The refugees should remain and be treated as human beings – just as the Jews used to be refugees and wanted to be treated like human beings and not thrown out. Martin Luther King said that the terrible things in history happened not because of the bad people who committed them, but because of the ‘good people’ who were silent when it happened.
El Al pilot, Shaul Betzer, was more succinct stating:
There is no way that I, as part of a flight crew, will participate in taking refugees/asylum seekers to a destination where their chances of surviving are minuscule.
To have the vision to know what one needs to do, and the commitment to do so, no matter how hard and no matter the cost, is truly powerful. For Rabbi Kushner, it is the very definition of God. For me, it is a powerful example of courage.