The Hebrew month of Elul is the last month of the year and traditionally marks the beginning period of repentance in the Jewish calendar. It is on the first day of the month that the prophet Moses ascended Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, and forty days later, on Yom Kippur, when he descended and broke the tablets when he saw the Children of Israel worshipping beside a statue of a golden calf.
To mark the period of repentance, rabbis instituted a tradition of reciting Psalm 27 at the end of morning and evening prayers. It is a call for God to protect Jews from their enemies.
As we approach the twentieth anniversary of UN Durban Conference and the attacks of 9/11 which both occurred during Elul, and how governments and people choose to commemorate those events, two sentences in the psalm deserve deeper exploration. Sentences 11 & 12:
ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהֹוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שֽׁוֹרְרָֽי׃ Show me Your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my watchful foes.
אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָמוּ־בִ֥י עֵדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃ Do not subject me to the will of my foes, for false witnesses and unjust accusers have appeared against me.
While the Psalm is set up to seek God’s protection from armies (verse 3), the lines above highlight that enemies include those who wish to undermine Jews with slander. The “watchful foes” scrutinize every action and then bear “false witness” with accusations that seek to seriously harm Jews as they enter the high holidays.
The United Nations, a body conceived of to promote peace and reduce bloodshed, has become a platform for “false witnesses and unjust accusers” which lambast Israel. UN Watch noted that in 2020, the UN General Assembly passed 17 resolutions condemning Israel, while passing a total of six against the rest of the world.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said that the “farce at the General Assembly underscores a simple fact: the UN’s automatic majority has no interest in truly helping Palestinians, nor in protecting anyone’s human rights; the goal of these ritual, one-sided condemnations is to scapegoat Israel.“
United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said much the same as he withdrew from the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa on September 3, 2001:
“Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the Conference could have made to it. But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of “Zionism equals racism;” or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world–Israel–for censure and abuse.“
The United Nations has promoted and given legitimacy to the “watchful foes” of Jews – both around the world and in the United States, at governmental levels, among lay leaders and ordinary citizens – to promote vicious slander against Israel and the Jewish people. As those lies are becoming mainstreamed, it is time to stop reciting Psalm 27 quietly but “with shouts of joy, singing and chanting,” (verse 6), for God to cause these evil people and organizations to “stumble and fall” (verse 2).
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