My original intention was to write a very different column about this week’s Torah portion, Noah. But the massive, barbaric attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 made any other discussion seem trivial and almost frivolous, if not irreverent.
So, I decided to do a total rewrite to connect the major theme of this week’s parsha, Noah, to the dominant theme of Jewish life in the wake of the unspeakable crimes against the Jewish people and humanity just two weeks ago.
It is more than bitter irony that Hamas, the Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement,” chose to call its massive attack on southern Israel “The Al-Aqsa Flood.” Al-Aqsa is the Arabic name for the entire compound of Islamic sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as well as for the silver-domed mosque on its southern flank.
It is also known as the Haram al-Sharif, one of the holiest sites in Islam and the holiest site in the Jewish tradition. It is also sacred to Christianity. In many ways, the Temple Mount is the pin in the hand grenade of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Hamas, founded in 1987, seeks to create a Palestinian fundamentalist Islamic state. In its original charter, Hamas explicitly calls for jihad against “warmongering Jews,” Zionists and their allies whose goals for world domination are laid out in the fictional global conspiracy contained in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” central to most anti-Zionist and antisemitic theories.
The original Hamas Charter promises that just as Islam overcame the Crusaders after centuries of struggle, so, too, will Hamas ultimately overcome Zionism and destroy the state of Israel.
It is against this diabolical ideological background that The Al-Aqsa Flood was unleashed on the morning of Shabbat-Simchat Torah 2023. Its goal was literally to drown the Zionist enemy in its own blood. Against every known standard of decency, its purpose was to create a flood of Jewish blood flowing from the wounds and detached limbs of Israelis and their supporters in and near Gaza.
Like the biblical Noachide flood, the whole Earth was to be covered, not with water, but with blood, Jewish blood. Mass murder, genocide and crimes are nothing new in modern history, but Hamas’ flood was so brutal that not even the most hardened military news analyst could contain his or her disgust and grief as the evidence of the sociopathic crimes were revealed to the world on live TV.
To the surprise of no one in the pro-Zionist world, a flood of virulent anti-Israel hatred instantly flowed from the campus of Harvard University to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. “The Zionists are to blame,” the cry went out. The fury of Hamas was justified, they said, by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Even the decapitation of babies, these monsters cried, was “understandable.”
On the other side of the carnage came yet another flood of shock, of incomprehension at the barbarity and scope of Hamas’ crimes. Then came a flood of grief, so deep, so piercing, that many believed that neither they nor Israel nor the Jewish people would ever fully recover. Now slowly a flood of anger is beginning to gather. Not yet focused, feelings of a need to persist in a strong response to The Al-Aqsa Flood is growing, restrained by concern for the large number of hostages of all ages held by Hamas in Gaza.
And still yet another flood is gathering momentum, particularly in the Jewish community, namely the rising waters of Jewish pride. The rising tide of Jewish memories of expulsions, blood libels, Inquisitions, pogroms, burning ghettos, killing fields and death camps.
A flood of memories of ancestors who endured the impossible and yet managed to keep the flame of Judaism alive and bequeath it to our generation is washing over us and simultaneously lifting us up and sweeping us away in a riptide of emotions.
Perhaps more than any other event since the Holocaust, The Al-Aqsa Flood has brought the Jewish people together on the ark of shared memory and purpose. Today, on the raging flood of blood, we are floating together on the sea of an eternal resentment.
Our ship of fate has not yet found its Mount Ararat to drop anchor and secure a place of rest for our tortured souls. We still do not have a dove bringing us the promise of a peaceful landing or a rainbow to assure us that another overwhelming flood will happen again, soon or in the distant future.
All we know is that we are on the boat of destiny together in a raging sea of blood, and the name of our ship is Hope. This week’s story of Noah assures us that even when there is no hope on the horizon, we will still believe in a better tomorrow for us, for Israel, for the world. Am Yisrael Chai!
Lance J. Sussman is the rabbi emeritus of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, the immediate past chair of the Board of Governors of Gratz College, vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and is working on a book.