Do you remember where you were 20 years ago? Do you remember where you were when you heard that Yitzhak Rabin had been shot, that he was assassinated? I remember. I was in my dorm room, at college. I remember two thinks specifically from when Rabin was assassinated.
One, I remember thinking “please, let it not be an Arab.” It’s hard to remember back then but I remember, there was violence and terrorism, incitement, hostility, all in the wake of Oslo, and all I could think, with my heart in my throat, was please, don’t let it have been an Arab.
I also remember going to Hillel for what was supposed to be a memorial vigil but ended up being the rabbi and Hillel director talking about heaven knows what. It was boring. It was meaningless. It was clear that he had no idea what to do or how to make sense of what had happened. I had hoped for meaning, for hope, and instead got senselessness.
That senselessness has become the byword for a Rabinless world. SInat Chinam, senseless hatred. It’s not just the hatred, the sinah, that continues to define our era, but that it is chinam. Since Rabin was taken from us 20 years ago this week we see evidence of that Sinat Chinam everywhere: in the language of politicians, in the actions of settlers burning down homes and attacking rabbis, to say nothing of the murderous rage of Palestinians who had hoped in Oslo but were betrayed by their own leadership.
Lots of folks have been writing this week wondering what would have been if Rabin had lived. The Israeli Hip-hop group Dag HaNachash wrote a whole song about it. The truth is, I don’t know what would have happened. Perhaps we would be in the same place we are in. One thing is clear since we have lost him, as Asher Schecter wrote in Ha’Aretz last year, we have not had political leadership that was willing to challenge the status quo, willing to be proactive instead of reactive. Rabin was nothing if not decisive and clear-eyed; would that we had such leadership today.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, which includes the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac, we tend to focus our attention at the build-up of that terrible moment: the journey, the walk up the mountain, the flash of the knife. We lose our focus once the angel stops his hand, but something interesting happens. Abraham lifts up his eyes, and then sees the ram. It’s not just that he sees the ram—he has to change his perspective; he has to see clearly, lift his eyes.
Our eyes have been downcast since we lost Rabin; and we have moved in a fog, acting as Abraham does, as if we don’t have a choice. We need to lift them up. Our vision of what might be is dimmed. It’s been twenty years too long. We need to look up. We need to lift our eyes again. May we have the strength to do so.