“Ipcha Mistabra: The Opposite is the Conclusion”

A Talmudic term used to challenge the logic of an accepted opinion, often indicating that the opposite is in fact the truth. It is also the moniker of a highly secretive Israeli intelligence security unit created specifically to question all major decisions of the army.

This blog will be a platform to challenge conventional views on vital Jewish and Israeli issues of the day, while offering alternative perspectives, with the express purpose of creating a more vibrant, and hopefully elevated, discourse for our People.

Our National Illness

“There is a time for everything; and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace…He [G-d] has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, 8, 11)

Throughout our most recent 1,900-year exile, the Jewish People were the quite unwelcome and most unfortunate guests of the Christian and Muslim worlds.  Our hosts graciously treated us to riots, pogroms, blood libels, expulsions, forced conversions, Inquisitions, and genocides, culminating in the Holocaust.  To generation after generation of our nation, it seemed like the suffering would never end.

And our courteous hosts — don’t forget — would present our subjugation and suffering as proof of the justness and truth of their respective religions.  We couldn’t physically defend ourselves.  We couldn’t leave.  We couldn’t convince our hosts to treat us nicely.  So we developed a defense mechanism.  Our exilic superpower if you will: A very short memory.  Put another way, we developed an acute skill for national forgetfulness.

It was the only way to cope, both with the frequency and with the severity of the constant attacks, generation after generation.  It was a necessary strategy for survival, and it allowed our national psyche to absorb devastating persecution, yet still endure.

And when our hosts would temporarily show us favor, how we rejoiced and praised G-d for our good fortune.  We were like a kid bullied at school.  We just tried to get by, class after class, day by day.  And if one day the cool kids invited us to sit at their table (most likely coupled with a request to do their math homework), we wouldn’t complain.  In fact, we’d be so happy with the respite from bullying, we’d thank them, and be absolutely mortified if anyone brought up what usually happened every other day.

So too our nation over the last two millennia.  Better not to dwell too deeply on each and every wrong done to us.  After all, maybe tomorrow will be better.  And with the dream of a return to our ancient Homeland seeming more and more like a far-fetched delusion, who could blame us for getting accustomed to persecution, keeping our heads down, and actively forgetting?  It’s not as if we could have done much to prevent the next attack anyways.  And with nearly two thousand years of practice, it basically became second nature.

Fast forward to modern times.  That far-fetched delusion of a Jewish State is a reality.  We have a (mostly) functional democracy, a Jewish military to protect us, and a booming high-tech sector as part of a strong national economy.  Not too bad considering where we were a few generations ago.  But as it has been often said, while you can surely take the Jew out of the Exile, it’s much more difficult to take the Exile out of the Jew.

And while that saying might seem a bit cutesy, there is something quite ominous hiding behind it.  While we were defenseless and scattered around the world, our Exilic superpower was in many ways necessary to protect our national psyche.  But there is no place for national forgetfulness in an independent nation-state, which has been enduring nearly a century of constant conflict with its neighbors.  A nation should remember the past wrongs done to it, and react in kind.  It must recognize the present dangers facing it, and protect itself accordingly, sometimes even preemptively.

Yet how can we do that, when we have taught ourselves to forget the terrible attacks and atrocities committed against us?  The same skill we developed in Exile to survive is endangering our survival today.  Whether willful or unwitting, our forgetfulness prevents us from effectively confronting the threats facing our country and our people.

For instance, there have been thousands of terror attacks perpetrated against Jews in Israel over the last decade and a half.  Can you name 3 suicide bombers?  How about 2?  I know I can’t.  We’ve become indifferent to it in many ways, partly because of the sheer volume, partly because of the emotional cost it would exact from us, and partly because we’ve become accustomed over hundreds of years to just forget and move on in order to survive.  Yet, now, our survival is no longer contingent on weathering the passing storm.  Now we control our own destiny, and we control our own security – which is why remembering is so critical.  We have an obligation to remember, because now we can use that information to influence the future, instead of repeating the mistakes of our past.

If we re-learn how to remember, then we won’t release thousands of terrorists, no matter what the circumstances, because we will remember what they did, who they did it to, and that if they’re released, the chances of them returning, unrepentant, to terrorism is fairly high.  If we re-learn how to remember, then we won’t ignore the fact that our “peace partners” call for our destruction in Arabic and incite their society with rampant anti-Semitism in their schools, mosques and media.  If we re-learn to remember, then we won’t fall into the trap of believing the “innocent” claims of our enemies that if only we give in to their most recent demands, then the terror will lessen and even disappear.  If we re-learn to remember, we might recall that it clearly wasn’t our 1967 reacquisition of Judea, Samaria, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza that ignited the 1948 pan-Arab invasion, aimed at destroying our newborn state.  And if we re-learn how to remember, we’ll recall that we don’t need America, or the world, to survive.  After all, America, our greatest ally, didn’t support us in 1948 or in 1967.  We won those wars, and earned our survival, all on our own.

Re-learning how to remember will also serve one other purpose.  It will restore our hope.  There are those who say we can’t withstand world pressure.  That we can’t defy the UN, the US or the EU, even though following their dictates often endangers our Jewish State and puts Jewish lives at risk. So as we enter the month of Kislev and approach the Jewish holiday of Channukah, we should remember that there were those who told Moses he could never oppose Pharoah, there were those who told David he could never triumph Goliath, and there were those who told the Maccabees they would surely fail against the Syrian-Greeks.

We are no longer passive guests in a hostile world.  We are no longer a nation subject to the whims of anti-Semitic storms.  And the first step to controlling our destiny is remembering that.  Only in this way will we be able to face the enormous existential dangers facing our state.

Perhaps King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), should have added one more verse to his list: “A time to forget and a time to remember, a time for Exile and a time for Sovereignty.”