The Final Test?
Mrs. Esther Wein recently shared with me a dvar Torah that she heard many years ago from her grandfather Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt"l, which may have application to the rampant anti-Semitism that has exploded around the world in the wake of Operation Protective Edge.
Rabbi Schwab asked what average Egyptians did to merit the terrible punishments that befell them in the course of the plagues. And what was the nature of the individual judgment on those Egyptians who drowned at Yam Suf? After all, it was Pharoah who refused to allow the bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt. Was every citizen of Egypt culpable for not have revolted against Pharoah to force him to grant thebnei Yisrael permission to escape?
He answered that the litmus test for the average Egyptian came when Pharoah added to the burden of the bnei Yisrael by requiring them to collect their own straw while retaining the same quota of bricks as before. The Jews, the Torah relates, had no choice but to fan out across Egypt in search of straw. Rabbi Schwab speculated that they were forced to knock on the doors of the Egyptians in their quest, and that the Egyptians were subsequently judged according to the manner in which they treated the Jewish slaves who beseeched them for straw.
That search for straw was the immediate prelude for the ten Makkos. In other words, each Egyptian was tested before the plagues began.
MRS. WEIN, today a well-known teacher of Torah, speculated that perhaps Hashem is testing our enemies in a similar fashion today. Rarely does an issue of such moral clarity present itself as the rights and wrongs of the current conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Let us start with the events immediately leading up to Operation Preventive Shield. It is uncontestable that Operation Preventive Edge was launched only after hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli cities. The firing of a single rocket, much less hundreds, would have been a clear casas belli if fired by a sovereign nation, and Hamas functions as a full sovereign in the Gaza Strip. Even before the firing of the missiles, the Hamas high command (either from Qatar or Gaza) ordered two West Bank operatives to kidnap and murder three Israeli teenagers.
So much for the immediate precedent for Israel's military action. But the war also revealed that the entire Gaza Strip has been turned into a labyrinth of underground tunnels built for the sole purpose of launching cross-border attacks against Israeli civilians or to shield Hamas rockets, rocket launchers, and senior military and civilian commanders.
Billions of dollars in international aid have been siphoned off by Hamas in single-minded pursuit of the goal of destroying Israel. That goal is reaffirmed repeatedly throughout the Hamas Charter. Article VI defines the role of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) as raising the banner of A-llah over every inch of Palestine. Article VII states that the final resurrection will not come until Moslems fight the Jews and the very trees call out, "There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him."
Even the large number of Gazan casualties does not change the moral calculus one whit. Once it is conceded that Israel has the right to defend itself and that the offensive tunnels leading into Israel and those sheltering Hamas's weaponry are legitimate military targets, then both the law of war and common sense dictate that Hamas is responsible for the civilian casualties resulting from efforts to destroy those tunnels and weaponry, especially when those military targets were deliberately located among civilians and Hamas repeatedly cajoled/coerced local residents into remaining in their homes.
The law of war is crystal clear that the responsibility for civilian deaths pursuant to the destruction of legitimate military targets falls completely on the side of the party that located its military assets among civilians. Logic leads to the same result, for any other conclusion would offer an enormous advantage to terrorist groups and non-state actors who attack states while using civilians as a shield. They would effectively immunize themselves from attack by recklessly locating military targets in civilian areas.
To affirm Israel's right to defend itself, as did President Obama's closest advisor Valerie Jarrett, for instance, while labeling as "indefensible" the civilian deaths from Israeli efforts to uproot military targets placed by Hamas in civilian areas, is to speak rank nonsense. There is no way for Israel to defend itself without destroying the underground tunnels and degrading Hamas's rocket supply. And if Hamas deliberately shields those targets with civilians, then civilians will inevitably die as an outgrowth of Hamas's decision.
The number of civilian casualties in the Gaza fighting reveals nothing about the morality of Israeli actions. They serve as a metric for nothing other than Hamas's cynical manipulation and disregard for the civilians under its rule.
Others have said even sillier things than Jarrett, such as that Israel should have shared its Iron Dome system with Hamas, just to make things fair. Right, and the United States should have given Japan the atom bomb just to make things fair.
Such contortions of logic can bespeak only one thing: Jew hatred. And that is before we get to all those across Europe chanting, "Jews to the gas," or surrounding Jews as they prayed in their synagogues.
Could the condemnations of Israel, when matters are so clear, constitute a final test for anti-Semites all around the world, just as the plaintive requests for straw were the final test for the Egyptians?
If the Shoe Fits, Wear It. If not . . . .
A month or so ago, I took my everyday shoes to the local shoe repairman to reattach the sole to the top part of the shoe. When I received the shoes back, however, I could barely fit my foot into them and the entire feel was completely different than before. I wear inserts in these shoes for a heel problem, but now the insert seemed to be lifting my arch in a very uncomfortable fashion.
I took the shoes back to the repairman, and told him that they had mysteriously shrunk in the repair process and needed stretching. The shoes were duly placed on the stretching rack, and after a day of being stretched, I could at least get my foot inside, but they still didn't feel right. And the inserts, though of the same color and material, somehow struck me as different from my previous inserts, not that I had ever spent a great deal of time examining them.
Soon after I began wearing the shoes again, my back went out. I initially attributed my back pains to overdoing a new exercise, not to the shoes. In time, however, I noticed that as soon as I put on that pair of shoes, within five minutes I would start experiencing back pain and could not even get out of chair without great care. Eventually I stopped wearing the shoes altogether, and wore only my Shabbos shoes all week.
After about a month, I returned to the shoemaker and asked him whether it was possible that he had switched my inserts with those of someone else with approximately the same size foot. His face lit up with excitement, as he handed me my inserts. He told me that another client had been coming by daily asking whether the person who took his inserts had yet returned them. In the meantime, my unwitting victim had been completely unable to wear his shoes and spent a month forced to walk around in his house slippers.
The very inserts that immediately threw out my back were so essential for their actual owner that without them he could not wear his shoes.
This little vignette strikes me as a good moshol for all the ways – some subtle, some large – that each of us is a unique amalgam of traits, strengths and weaknesses: Just as each person's foot is different, so is his way of perceiving the world different. And as a consequence, any effort to educate or otherwise interact with every other person according to one fixed approach is doomed to failure.
It ain't necessarily so
With this column, I'd like to introduce a new occasional feature analyzing (poking fun) at arguments based on the misuse of statistics or specious logic. My hope is that the chosen items will prove entertaining and perhaps even instructive. From my point of view, such an occasional feature allows me to collect random items over time and plug them in as required to fill spaces leftover from the longer pieces.
Our inaugural items comes courtesy of the New York Times, which will no doubt prove a fecund source of good humor. In late May, theTimes ran an op-ed piece by one Edward Cline, a professor of history specializing in ancient Middle Eastern civilizations. In response, to those who challenge the alarmism of proponents of anthropogenic global warming, Cline describes a series of wars and famines that led to the demise of ancient empires in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. He attributes these events to rapid warming around 1200 BCE.
Cline may or may not be right about the causation of the events described: No one challenges that the earth has gone through periods both far hotter and far colder than today, in the course of human history. But rather than disarming the so-called "deniers" of anthropogenic global warming, as he thinks he has, Cline has actually buttressed their case. For if he is correct, he has provided an example of global warming that cannot possibly be attributed to carbon emissions caused by human activity because the civilizations he describes pre-date the Industrial Revolution by several thousand years. He forgets, it seems, that the central dispute in the debate over anthropogenic global warming is not over warming (or cooling for that matter) but over human agency.