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Rabbi Rafi RankBy the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank

President Obama has given an historic speech at Cairo University in which he has reached out to the Islamic world more publicly and dramatically than any other United States president before him.  His address was deferential.  He quoted from the Quran five times, each time referring to it as holy.  He enumerated the contributions of Moslems to world civilization.  He made mention of the 1200 mosques in America and the fact that Islam flourishes not only in the America of today, but has in many respects done so since the beginning of the United States, over two centuries ago.  It was a speech interrupted multiple times by the applause of those gathered to hear it.

The president has certainly taken upon himself an agenda of staggering proportions.  Sinking over $500 billion dollars into the economy with hopes of defeating this global recession was ambitious enough, but his drive to achieve world peace is even more grandiose.  World peace is something we pray for, and it is certainly something to work for, but given the enduring presence of evil in this world, forces, well-organized and well-funded that are the very opposite of who Obama is and what Americans cherish, the achieving of world peace will remain as elusive as ever.  I am certain that the president’s speech made a positive impact on the Islamic world.  I am equally certain that those who pray for America’s destruction and Israel’s annihilation will continue to do so, and will have remained impervious to the president’s appeals and sentiments.  This does not mean that we should despair, but it does mean that we should never underestimate the deterrent value of America or Israel’s daunting military prowess.  When the president says, as he did in Cairo, that he reaffirms America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nation holds nuclear weapons, I suspect that he is talking about a very distant dream, for dismantling America’s defense systems at this time would not prepare for peace but provoke disaster.

In this week’s parashah, we read about the mei merarim, the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters, and how a woman suspected of adultery was made to undergo a ritual designed to prove her guilt or innocence.  The ritual, which included her drinking a concoction of dust, sacral water, and a curse rubbed into that solution, is a ritual abandoned long ago, and certainly nothing anyone would want to reinstitute today.  Then again, the ritual points to the ways in which people do torture each other, when they become jealous or suspicious.  Our jealousies and suspicions can lead to many acts of bitterness and thus the effort to dilute those jealousies or contract those suspicions is praiseworthy. 

At the same time, we can’t live blindly to the fact that people sin, that violent tendencies and extreme behaviors are as real a phenomenon as is infidelity in marriage.  The president has a multitude of constituencies to appease, but his first responsibility is to the American people and to those who support the ideals and values we cherish.  He’ll find those supporters in Israel.  I don’t know if he is going to find appreciable support for them in Arabia.

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