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Dvar Torah - Vayeira

As we inch through our fourth terrible week of the war in Gaza, we find ourselves confronted by an old acquaintance. He goes by many names. Some call him "double standard”. Others prefer to be more direct and name him "antisemitism”. However, whatever your preferred nomenclature, this unwelcome visitor has reared his vile head throughout the world during this war, especially in the last week as Israel begins her long-awaited ground invasion. Antisemitism is the oldest hatred. We can trace back to the origins of our people. Indeed, it first appeared in last week's parsha. Last week. Avraham Avinu was told as part of his covenant with G-d that his children would remain "in a land not theirs and [the denizens of that land] will enslave them and torment them for four hundred years”.

However, it is only sometimes so. Some periods have been very good for us, even in a "land not ours”. Famously, the Jewish community flowered and prospered under the Umayad caliphate in Spain. Also, of course, we are currently in a period that our ancestors could barely dream of. Jews are equals under the law, and we enjoy the full range of opportunities afforded to our non-Jewish neighbours. Indeed, it is the relative lack of formalised, institutional, and legal antisemitism that makes the events (outside of Israel) of the past few weeks so shocking.

Nevertheless, let's not only remember the bad. Let's focus on the good, as it seems so great in the light of history. After the atrocities of 7 October, government buildings throughout the world, including in Melbourne, were lit up in blue and white. Public figures rushed to condemn the massacre and express solidarity with Israel and with the Jewish people. The leader of the free world came to Israel to console us and show solidarity and has continued to condemn both Hamas and antisemitism closer to home. Government ministers in Victoria and federally met with community leaders, attended solidarity events and rallies, and beefed up security around our institutions. These steps are unprecedented, and we should note them.

There is a very human tendency to focus on the bad in our lives. It makes it hard to appreciate the genuine efforts of others to reach out and bring us some joy or at least to ease pain. This week, Avraham shows us the importance of fighting the prominence of negative bias. Avraham, in what was perhaps the first-ever example of antisemitism, was evicted from Grar because of his relative wealth. Forced to wander, he settled a few days away in his tent. However, when the king of Grar came to make peace, Avraham didn't turn him away. Avraham agreed, and they had a meal together and departed on good terms. Things looked so good that later on Yitzchak settled in Grar for a considerable period.

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