Self-scrutiny and the national will
by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 21, 2006
Fear has its uses. It concentrates the mind. Old soldiers inevitably remember their days in combat as the most intense time of their lives.
The blasts of the Shofar are also meant to scare us and awaken us from our spiritual slumber. The teru’a blasts replicate the sound of something shattering. What is being broken are all the ingrained patterns of our lives, the lazy concessions to the vanities of the world.
Not every Jew, however, hears the Shofar, and even those who do are not necessarily aroused to reflect more deeply on their lives. Sometimes it almost seems as if G-d sends other blasts to make us tremble if the Shofar (sounded from the beginning of Elul) does not do the job. In 2000, two days before Rosh Hashanah, we found ourselves once more at war with the Palestinians. A year later, the Twin Towers came crashing down the week before Rosh Hashanah.
This year the month-long war in Lebanon has triggered a degree of national soul-searching not seen since the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. The war is being portrayed not just as a failure of the political and military echelons, but of Israeli society as a whole.
A decadent society, we are told, is ill-equipped to confront major threats to its existence. The single-minded pursuit of money and pleasure among adults, the desire to be a "celebrity" that has enchanted our youth, and the pervasive corruption and venality of our politicians, busy pursuing private ambition at the expense of the public good, all reflect that decadence.
For Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz, the most scathing of the proliferating critics, our prime minister cum real-estate speculator (actually the speculative element has largely been absent from his series of fixed sales of homes), who ran on a platform of making Israel a "fun" place to live, embodies much of what is wrong. And his speech to a group of American Jewish leaders in which he declared, "We are tired of fighting, tired of winning; we are tired of defeating our enemies," could serve as the Ur-text of what ails us.
The alternative to fighting and winning, it turns out, is not peace, but defeat and exile.
In Shavit’s telling, Israel’s elites endlessly proclaimed that Israel is insanely powerful, the better to justify their own naked pursuit of the good life. They stopped doing reserve duty or sending their sons to combat units; they undermined every element of the old Zionist narrative, leading to a widespread loss of belief in the justness in Israel’s cause; they mocked the former communitarian values and decried Israel’s excessive militarism; and they dreamed that Tel Aviv is Manhattan and that a Jewish state could escape the burdens of Jewish history and achieve normalcy amidst a sea of Arabs. The result was to "corrode the tree trunk of Israeli existence from within and cause it to lose its vitality."
Now our own Cincinnatus, former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, has made the most serious charge ever leveled at an Israeli government, in an interview with Shavit. The final two days of the war, in which 33 Israeli soldiers lost their lives, was, according to Yaalon, a "spin" operation, undertaken for no other purpose other than staving off the wrath of a public demanding decisive action.
ISRAELIS HAVE BEEN FORCED to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of our struggle for existence, and that national will counts as much in that struggle as superior firepower and a stronger economy.
But national will is not a commodity that can be ordered up on a platter or reduced to a line in the budget. It must grow from something – from a rich soil of shared beliefs and values. In societies in which national will is strong, it need not be discussed, for it develops organically from the totality of life.
Ultimately, only a strong sense of being rooted in the continuum of Jewish history and the belief that the Jewish people have been chosen for a particular mission can provide the necessary resolve. Those who imagine that G-d has preserved our people for over 3,000 years in order that Tel Aviv can claim its place among the world’s fun spots will eventually move to places where life is not quite so pressured and the day-to-day dangers are not so great.
The war has provoked some of the most thoughtful Israelis to ask powerful questions about the kind of society we have become and the kind we want to be. That national self-scrutiny -- like that taking place on the individual level as Rosh Hashanah approaches -- is at once frightening and liberating. For only such scorching self-scrutiny can point the way to a better future.
In addition to provoking the right questions, the war in Lebanon revealed some sources of national strength that will serve us well in 5767. Whatever the failures in the conduct of the war, Israel showed that it is not quite the cobweb waiting to be swept away portrayed by Nasrallah. Not once in over a month of fighting was the government subjected to any pressure to bring matters to a speedy conclusion. Until the very end, Israelis remained confident that the IDF would somehow snatch a dramatic victory.
Of equal note was the response to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled the North in the course of the fighting, and for whom the government abdicated responsibility. Private individuals and organizations mobilized to provide housing, food, and activities for the children on a massive scale.
SUCH ACTS of chesed, of lovingkindness, are the best preparations for Rosh Hashana. The Alter of Kelm taught that we crown God as King on Rosh Hashana through acts of love of others and deeds of hesed. Such acts require us to overcome the innate self-centeredness that constitutes the greatest block to accepting God's sovereignty and living in harmony with our fellow man.
May the travails of the end of the old year point us toward a new year filled with spiritual and material blessings.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur
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