Then there came a messenger and told Abram who dwelt in the plains of Mamre…and when Abram heard that Lot his brother’s son had been taken captive, he armed his servants…three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued them. … [When Malchizedek heard what Abram had done], Malchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine…and blessed him saying: “Blessed is Abram of G-d, the Most High…and blessed be G-d, the Most High, Who has delivered your foes into your hand…” Gen.14:13-20
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, once pointed out an interesting fact about Abraham. Abraham found respect from the outside world only in the aftermath of one particular incident… what prompted this profusion of compliments? Why had a Jew suddenly been thrust into the role of universal hero? This reception was never accorded Abraham when he fulfilled his characteristics of chesed, showing kindness to strangers… Helping others won Abraham no worldly praise. It was only when he pursued the terrorists who held his nephew Lot captive… and he smote them, only then did the world show respect. For what impresses the world is not saintliness as much as strength, not character as much as courage, not piety as much as power. As Akiva Eldar (a leftist Israeli journalist) once wrote in Ha’aretz, “The Arab belief that the Jews rule the world has become one of Israel’s most important deterrent factors, no less than its military strength… Do you think they would learn to love us if we were less successful (and weaker)? Should we be less successful (and weaker) just to please them?!” (Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg)
If the Torah is our people’s learning manual for life, it is instructive that throughout the Torah, there are critical times in the forging of our people’s national psyche when it is necessary to do battle against our people’s enemies. It is only after Abram’s crushing victory over the four kings that G-d tells Abram, “Fear not Abram, I will be a shield to you, your reward shall be great.” (Gen.15:1) And for Jacob, it was only after he was willing to struggle all night, unwilling to let his attacker go until he blessed Jacob, that he was then told his name would no longer be Jacob, but Israel! For not only did G-d set before our people blessings and curses, but just as importantly He has set before our people, from the “drawer of water” to the “machers of the thick wallets,” the choice between courage and cowardice.
It is written in Parashat Shoftim, “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see his horses and chariots – a people more numerous than you – you shall not fear them for Hashem, your G-d, is with you, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt… Hear O Israel, you are coming near to the battle with your enemies; let your heart not be faint; do not be afraid…” (Deut. 20:1-3) For as it is written in Proverbs, “…in the destruction of the wicked there is exultation.” (Proverbs 11:10)
Now I know how difficult it can be for some of the liberal Jewish appeasement persuasion to see reality. Most refused to believe that Oslo was a sham. Often called an enemy of peace, I fought those battles early on and saw their eyes glaze over when facts were in front of their very noses. Too many were dealing with “a dose of nuance,” between large gulps of Kool-aid. But there were times when even they would momentarily come to their senses when looking back at their contemptible cowardice as agreement after agreement was ceremoniously signed, only to be followed by more Jewish body parts being scraped off the streets after another bus exploded in Jerusalem or another restaurant leveled in Haifa. A spectacle of meaningless signatures on worthless pieces of paper signed for a peace process that never was. Today a few still hang on to their delusions, but more of the liberal whimsical pandering Left have finally come to their senses, unfortunately after too many Jews have been slaughtered… too many funerals…too many shivas. I am heartened most recently by an acclaimed secular leftist Israeli politician, Yair Lapid. I caught him on an unusual day. A day when he was both lucid and honest.x
“The left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper was unhappy with Lapid… His resignation from his TV program marks the end of a one-man masquerade that went well beyond the limits of … journalistic ethics and personal integrity,” wrote Yossi Verter. Lapid is vehemently against a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria (note the use of the Biblical names from a secular Israeli Jew), but in responding to a move by British academics… because of the ‘occupation’ Lapid opined, ‘While it may be true that the humane thing is to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints… to enable the Palestinians freedom of movement in the territories, to tear down the bloody inhumane wall, to promise them the basic rights ensured to every individual – it’s just that I will end up paying for this with my life… Petty of me perhaps to dwell on this point. After all, how important is my life when compared to the chance for peace, justice and equal rights. But still, call me a weakling; call me thick-headed – I don’t want to die.” (Arutz Sheva, 9/1/12)
Eloquent in its simplicity. Wonderful in its clarity. Here is an Israeli leftist who for 19 years humiliated himself with peace drivel and two-state solution nonsense that one day was hit with a large slug of reality and for reasons that only his Tel Aviv therapist might know, stated unambiguously that “I don’t want to die.” Isn’t this what the political Right has been saying over the last two decades? I caution not to get too giddy thinking we’ll find that tomorrow Lapid will be davening on Shabbat at a shul near the Kotel, but it shows there is hope for some of the delusional leftist persuasion, especially when it comes to their own wellbeing.
For 2,000 years the world got used to a powerless Jewish nation, a nation of wandering “shmattes.” Although in 1948 things began to change, the world still hasn’t gotten used to Jews who are tough and determined and can fly an F-16 at the speed of sound. And there are still too many of the American Jewish “thick wallets” who whisper “Sha! Shtil!” (Quiet! Don’t make trouble!) and write letters of their double standard discomforts when the likes of the Levy Commission stated the obvious, that building in our Biblical homeland is legal by all international laws. But the cowardice of these self-appointed “thick-wallet” leaders has a sordid history… Don’t build in our Biblical homeland. Don’t make waves. The world may not like it. The EU will condemn us. The UN will pass another anti-Israel resolution. Let’s be good “shtetl Jews” in our glorious diaspora mansions and live comfortably with our enormous bank accounts – after all, what is the “West Bank” but barren rocks and rubble? How they love to use our enemies’ pejoratives! Sadly, their cowardice denigrates their grandfathers’ dreams. They have run from these dreams. They remember so little of where they came from. So might we spare them any history lessons… Can’t we all just appeasingly assimilate?
I have a journalistic acquaintance who is a leftist and claims to be Orthodox– which is interesting since it is written in Koheles, “A wise man’s mind tends to the right; while a fool’s mind tends to the left” (Koh. 10:2), but Phillip “Pinky” Rosenthal is a Torah thumper. He believes he knows Torah. He went to a bunch of Jewish schools and he does wear a kippah. Not long ago he wrote, “The point is there is no point in learning Torah if you don’t first understand to truly love Torah… you must be a kind, caring, decent, considerate person…make sure you act like a mensch… The Torah is a blueprint for how to live life…” and living, as Yair Lapid reflects, is the operative word. Here Pinky and I can almost agree. Pinky writes of “acting in a manner that makes you worthy of the honor… of having been given the Torah…” and on this we also mostly agree. Yet there is much more in Torah, and kumbaya is not a word you’ll find in the Torah. What you will find is that sometime after Lot was rescued there is a second story in our Torah regarding another hostage-taking. A story of when Abraham’s grandson Jacob’s daughter Dinah is taken captive and raped.
“Now Dinah… went out to look over the daughters of the land. Shechem, son of Hamor, prince of the region, took her and lay with her and violated her… Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah… Jacob kept silent until his sons arrived… and when they heard they were distressed and were deeply filled with indignation for Shechem had committed an outrage… Now Shechem was the most respected of all his father’s household… And it came to pass that Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi, each took his sword and they came upon the city and killed every male… Then they took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left… Jacob said to Shimon and Levi, You have made me odious in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land… Should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated. And Shimon and Levi said,’ Should they treat our sister like a harlot?’ ” (Gen. 34:1-31). Yet the story gets better, for Jacob and his household left Shechem for Beth-El, as G-d instructed. “They set out, and there fell a G-dly terror on the cities which were around them, so that they did not pursue Jacob’s sons.”(Gen. 35:5) From our Torah, it is clear, and our history as a people confirms, that conflict was always to be part of our eternal covenant, which has given even greater importance to the G-dly promise,”I will be your shield…Your reward (if you stick with Me) will be great.” Peace, it should be remembered, comes much more quickly after victory.
I open a desk drawer and history stares at me. It is a headline from Life magazine, April 18, 1938. Ironically, it says it is the first night of Passover. The headline reads, The Jews, Again the Wandering Children of Israel, Are on the Move in a Hostile Europe.” President Roosevelt had reminded the world of the acute refugee problem…in all lands were unwanted minorities…for whom haven should be found. The president specified refugees in Russia, Italy, Spain…but the world well understood that he really meant the greatest of all refugees, the Jews who are the world’s eternal wanderers and who once again must take up their march from countries which once welcomed them and no longer will tolerate them. They are besieged in Germany and Austria, persecuted in Poland, oppressed in Russia…” Much in the realm of the unthinkable will happen in the next ten years, as the world stood, in silence, idly by.
Rabbi Soloveitchik asked,”Why had a Jew suddenly been thrust into the role of universal hero? This reception was never accorded Abraham when he fulfilled his characteristic of chesed,…Helping others won Abraham no worldly praise. It was only when he pursued the terrorists (today’s Iran that threatens Israel with nuclear annihilation) and he smote them, only then did the world show respect. For what impresses the world is not saintliness as much as strength, not character as much as courage, not piety as much as power.”
“Pinky,” the Americanized diaspora Ortho-leftist Jew, worries what the world will say…Does being a mensch mean to again take one for the Gipper? Our people have done that a few too many times over the last 2000 years. Yair proclaims, “I don’t want to die!” It’s a beautiful thing when a leftist declares, “Am Yisrael Chai!” The gift our people were given in 1948 was to be am hofshi b’artzeinu – a free people in our own land. There will be plenty of time for “decent and caring” after doing what we know will upset the nations of the world. The world will get over it eventually. And a “G-dly terror falling over (Iran)” sounds like a good thing. Yet if Israel doesn’t do what must be done, and if diaspora Jews around the world don’t unconditionally support Israel with all the courage they can muster, then do those of us living in the comforts of the diaspora truly deserve the blessing of our State of Israel and the honor of being G-d’s chosen? The time is short. The work will be difficult. The reward is great. And the Master lovingly urges.
Jack “Yehoshua” Berger