A warm welcome to Rabbi Peter H. Grumbacher and messages from him:



My Word!
“Theology and Israel”

A Beth El congregant asked me a question:

Why did God side with the Jewish people in invading Judea/Samaria, forcing the residents to leave, and “giving” (sic!) the land to the Jewish people?

I’m not one to believe that God works that way. Even before Rabbi Harold Kushner published When Bad Things Happen to Good People many years ago, I couldn’t reconcile God’s “finger” being in every event whether it was for the sake of Jews or otherwise, whether for good or bad. My father was once asked, “How can you believe in God and be so involved in your synagogue after your interment in Dachau, and the murder of your mother and sisters in Auschwitz?” My father’s consistent response was, “God had nothing to do with it!”

Regarding our congregant’s question there is another issue.

We didn’t “invade” Judea and Samaria during the June 1967 Six-Day War. Israel was invaded by seven Arab nations and had to defend herself. Just look at a map, current or pre-1967, and you’ll see the predicament of being locked in with enemies around you, the only open border being the Mediterranean Sea on the west. She was surrounded by fighting forces in so great a number that no one imagined Israel would last a week, let alone defeat her enemies in a week. Yes, the victory of Israel in 1967 was a miracle, but here, too, I quote my father who, to some, was his own miracle-maker as an American G.I. “You have to do what you have to do, and if God wants to help you do it, so be it.” She captured land that extended her borders, adding significant territory as a buffer. Across the years Israel gave back some of these territories for the sake of peace, and was on the brink of giving more had not the Palestinians rejected the offers; all or nothing wasn’t good enough for the Palestinians.

Another point…

The situation now is political with the government siding with the far right secular and Orthodox communities in order to form a coalition. A portion of that demographic does see God working to restore the biblical boundaries of ancient “Greater Israel,” as it is called.Those boundaries extend well beyond the post-1967 map, and for all intents and purposes no government was interested in proclaiming “Greater Israel” as the nation’s ultimate outline.

Let me state, I abhor the lack of justice which has seemed to devolve into unconscionable behavior on Israel’s part. What happened to our people being a “light to the nations”? What happened to the words of our prophets, e.g. “Let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream” ?

In 1967 Israel’s choice was to do (what she did) or die (literally). Far too many Jews aren’t aware of Israel’s history, her meaning to our People, and her traditional place as a haven for Jews. To me, Israel is not “just another country.”

   In 2019 she still must defend herself from terrorists and Islamic states that continue to wish her disappearance from the face of the earth. Nevertheless, being the major military might she is today, she should also choose to put more than a little effort into the prophetic message so that the light will once again shine brightly. 


My Word!

    (Please note: I made a biblical error. Eager to write a couple of “My Word!” columns before vacation I got fahblunjet. Last week’s column about Balaam should have been for the eBlast of July 17. This past week’s Torah portion dealt with Korach, far more rotten than Balaam in that he attempted a coup. He lost. I’ll try to be more careful. I apologize. Here’s My Word! for this week:)

   Moses got sick and tired of the constant whining of the Israelites. He struck the rock to get water which they clamored for despite the fact that he had been ordered peak to the rock. You don’t mess with what the good Lord tells you to do, even if you’re Moses. His punishment was cruel…he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, his goal, indeed his dream ever since he began his leadership of the Israelites.

  Some sages said that we must look for other reasons since, they too maintained, this wasn’t God’s way. You really had to tick-off God for so horrific a punishment, and this didn’t seem like such an act. There’s got to be something else.

  What they put forth was the way Moses made himself known after he fled Egypt, after he killed the taskmaster. Yitro (Jethro), his soon-to-be father-in-law, was told “an Egyptian gave us water to drink”; he initially didn’t know Moses was in fact a Hebrew because Moses wanted it that way. That, posited the sages, was reason enough to deny Moses his most fervent wish.

  It’s interesting to understand how important identity is. Admitting you’re a Jew might result in confusion for some - absurd confusion in certain cases - but by saying, “I am a Jew” affirms you know who and what you are. You’re not hiding it; you’re proud of it.

  “Absurd confusion”?? A student of mine told me that when his teacher found out he was Jewish, she asked to speak to him in the hallway. She requested (ready for this?!) to see his horns. Fortunately, this very young man respectfully told his teacher, “Yes, I’m a Jew, but you should know that Jews don’t have horns. “    

  Daniel Pearl, the journalist beheaded by ISIS 17 years ago, publicly stated on video before his murder, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” Daniel Pearl was proud to be a Jew although he knew that this for sure would lead to his death. If he was to die, he wanted to die as a Jew!

  Be well!

My Word!
“Giants in Our Own Right” 

In the earlier days of the State of Israel its buses were not state-of-the-art as they are today. For someone who is 6’5” not having a seat on a bus was painful indeed. On one trip I had to stand directly under the vent as there was extra space. One quick stop caused my head to hit one of the four “walls.”

On another trip a wide-eyed little boy looked up at Suzy (also tall) and me and said, “Ima, anakim!!…Mom, look at the giants!!”  We all had a good laugh.

Anakim is a word that is found in this week’s Torah portion Sh’lach l’cha. It refers to the description of the inhabitants of the Promised Land as seen through the eyes of ten of the twelve spies. The twelve had been sent to check out the land and the people. Those ten said, “Compared to the inhabitants, we are like grasshoppers.There’s no way we will be successful!”

But the other two - Joshua and Caleb - gave realistic reports, neither pessimistic nor optimistic. However their bottom line was, “We can do it with God on our side.”

It’s hard to be optimistic in this religious world of ours. We are facing a Jewish population which doesn’t see affiliation as a priority; congregations merging or closing; Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies conducted by a rent-a-rabbi in a secular venue. Yet in the course of Jewish history this is a blip, as there have been other times when “the end” was in sight yet “the end” didn’t come.

What we need is the strengthening of what we have, an appreciation of the history of our congregation and a vision of the future that sees Beth El Congregation as a continued source of strength, a true Jewish presence in Harrisonburg as it has been for well over a century. Let the ten spies report what they will, but we have to carry the banner of the two, of Joshua and Caleb, so that we can look beyond the moment and be giants in our own right.

Congregation Beth El  540-434-2744