Former Associated Press correspondent Matti Friedman has written an important new book. Pumpkin Flowers: A Soldier’s Story draws compelling lessons form his own IDF experiences in Southern Lebanon’s Security Zone in the late 1990s. It has been 34 years since Israel, then at age 34, entered Lebanon. “The Israel that arrived in Lebanon in 1982 was still imaginative and light on its feet” Friedman writes. He portrays the plight of the IDF in Lebanon as a turning point in both Israel’s history and in how warfare has been conducted against the US and Coalition forces ever since.
Yet there is a grounded realism from which we may distill inspiration this week as Israel celebrates her 68th Birthday. “We might make good choices or bad choices, but the results are unpredictable and the possibilities limited. The Middle East does not bend to our dictates or our hopes.” But, conveys Friedman, “making do”, our fundamental national ability, is “something Jews have done throughout the centuries no matter how inhospitable the soil.”
Perhaps ideals are more fruitful when they are grounded. This week’s Torah portion has a Proverb-like character. Its steady flow of counsel shapes a life lived in close proximity to the holy. Some of the most challenging passages in its sacred parade of advice touch on managing our emotions. “Don’t hate your brother deep in your heart”, “Don’t avenge your kinsmen” “Don’t be heartlessly indifferent to your neighbor’s plight” (Lev. 19:17,18, 16). Yet with the same verses, the Torah implores “Love your neighbor has you love yourself.” Containing and curbing emotions in among the hardest things we ever have to do in life. A core implication at the heart of the this week’s Sedra is that the closest relationships we will ever know can be the most tempestuous. Such difficulties do not, however, detract from the deep worthiness of striving to curb vengeance or to contain hatred.
We stand as tall as our ideals are high. Even as our heads should neither be buried in the sand nor waft in the clouds, the warmth of our hearts must not be chilled by cold-hearted cruelty. Cynicism is as unaffordable as is naiveté. Ever-mindful of ubiquitous and relentless threats to Israel’s ideals of mutual dignity, security, and success for her and her neighbors, may God’s Torah continue to bless us with a defiant resilience toward returning upright (komemiyut) to our Homeland.