A time for every purpose under heaven
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 20, 2000
The Shofar blasts that we sound after the morning prayers from the beginning of Elul are meant to arouse us from our spiritual slumber. This year, however, the wake-up calls have not been limited to houses of worship. God has been working overtime providing us with incentives both as individuals, and as a nation, to re-examine our path.
On Erev Rosh Hashana, rioting broke out on the Temple Mount and Jews were forced to flee from the Western Wall; we entered Yom Kippur with radios tuned to a silent channel in case of a reprise of 1973; and by the beginning of Succot, even the most dewy-eyed optimists admitted that we were in the midst of war.
Faced with cataclysmic events, the believing Jew naturally turns to the Torah for guidance. He studies the Torah, not because he believes that a close reading will reveal the direction of tomorrow's stock market, or the winner of the World Series; nor because he believes that the Torah offers the tools to precisely explain calamity - i.e., this sin caused this tragedy. He studies Torah because, for him, history is not a series of random events. The Torah is the blueprint from which the world was created, and therefore it is to the Torah that he looks for perspective on current events.
Let us see what form such a search might take. The intensification of Yasser Arafat's new intifada coincided with the reading of the portion of Ha'azinu, which includes some of the Torah's most terrifying curses. "You provoked Me with a non-god," Moses tells the Jewish people in God's voice, "...and I will provoke you with a non-nation."
Does that not describe our situation today? All our strivings have been directed to the non-gods of money and physical pleasure, things without even the pretense of holiness. And we now find ourselves threatened by a non-nation.
For all its fierceness, Palestinian nationalism is of recent vintage. During 19 years of Jordanian rule of the West Bank, no calls were heard for a Palestinian state because there was no Palestinian people. No Palestinian language, no unique Palestinian culture. A direct relationship can be discerned between our rejection of our national identity (in favor of the pursuit of non-gods) and the Palestinians' embrace of their newly minted nationhood.
Moses' prophecy continues. Only when the Jewish people see that "their power is gone, with nothing left to keep or abandon," will God save us. The Talmud comments on this verse that the messiah will only come when the Jewish people have abandoned all hope of redemption, raising the obvious question: How can the abandonment of faith in redemption be the occasion for redemption?
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, a contemporary commentator, answers that only when we give up our belief in a natural redemption: that the nations of the world will take pity on us and provide us with a place to build our homeland, will we merit Divine redemption. That comment provides another perspective on the international obloquy and condemnation to which Israel has been once again subjected after three months of convincing ourselves that we were beloved by the nations of the world.
The Torah warns of the dangers of prosperity upon our return to our Land. Our very success can lead to our forgetting the God Who took us out of Egypt, fed us in the desert, and brought us into a goodly Land. Instead we will proclaim that it was "my strength and the power of my hand" to which we owe all our success.
Stone-throwing Palestinians during the first intifada revealed once and for all the limits of our vaunted military power. Still, the old habit of revelling in suchy power dies hard. Hizbullah kidnaps four Israelis and our prime minister announces, "We shall know how to deal with the kidnapping of our soldiers," even as it is clear that we have no idea how to get them back alive. Two Israeli soldiers are torn limb from limb by a Palestinian mob, and former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak proclaims that we will pursue each and every one of their murderers to the ends of the earth. Yet all know that we will do nothing of the kind.
Our leaders console themselves with the thought that we have the firepower to wipe out thousands of Palestinians in short order if we so chose. Yes, but we won't. All the talk about what we could do provokes only mirthful contempt today. We are being shown the limits of our power for our own good. Ancient texts provide more clues to the sources of our present travails.
THE MIDRASH records an argument between Isaac and Yishmael as to who is the true heir of Abraham and therefore of the Divine promise of the Land. Both understand that the argument hinges on which of them is willing to sacrifice more for that patrimony. Yishmael cites his willingness to be circumscribed at the age of thirteen, and Isaac counters that he would be willing to give his very life to God.
After seven years of the Oslo process, we feel less secure about our future in this Land than at any time since 1948. It is no accident, the Midrash suggests to us, that Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, chief architect of that process, sees no intrinsic value in the Land and writes that the Zionist Congress of 1905 erred in rejecting the offer of Uganda for a Jewish homeland. Or that he once told an interviewer that he would have nothing to say to one of his children who asked why he or she should not intermarry. In other words, he has nothing to offer as to why his grandchildren should be raised as descendants of Abraham. The past sacrifices of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were mistakes in his eyes that ought not be repeated.
A note to the reader: I have broken two of my own self-imposed rules for this column. I have never written before on Hol Hamoed. And I have always tried to base the column on arguments that do not require acceptance of my personal theological premises. If I chose to write this Hol HaMoed, it is only out of the conviction that something so important is taking place in Eretz Yisrael that we cannot afford to miss a single opportunity to speak with one another. And when we do, we should do so from the heart, without pretense or pose.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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