201+211/929. Herzl’s Big Mistake. Yehoshua 23-24 (and end!)

The fantasy that the State of Israel would solve the Jewish problem is proven wrong again and again with each news update. Herzl imagined that the Jews were oppressed on account of their otherness. Once they’d return to the natural state of sovereignty, this would disappear. But apparently, the Jewish people’s otherness is not so easily disposed of. This strange, but undeniable, historical truth is explicitly addressed in Yehoshua’s parting words to the people in chapters 23 and 24.

Yehoshua leaves unfinished business for the Jews to tend to after his death. The land has been divided, but not fully conquered; many non-Jewish nations still populate the land. But the way Yehoshua frames the task of the Jewish people is not in terms of conquering. That, he leaves fully to God. The concern foremost in Yehoshua’s mind is that the people will tire of the effort demanded to maintain their national identity and uniqueness. Once we’re here, and we’ve fought for so long already– why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t we just become one with the natives, building together a one-state solution?

Yehoshua’s answer is that it simple won’t work. As much as we try to cleave to them, ultimately, the graft will be unsuccessful, and we will find that they are “thorns in our eyes” (23:13).  Our otherness is inescapable. To understand why, Yehoshua offers some historical background in chapter 24.

The major thrust of Yehoshua’s very selective historical retelling is to emphasize the Jews’ perennial otherness. “Our ancestors always lived on the other side of the river…” He begins. Our origins are across one river, and the iron furnace which formed us is across another one. The Jewish people traces its beginning to the two great centers of civilizations of the time, Mesopotamia and Egypt, but did not aspire to become, or to overcome, either one. Instead, they crossed a third river in order to enter the land in which they’d build the society that does not solve the Jews’ otherness, but rather, that enshrines it as a model to teach what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls “the dignity of difference”, the value of Otherness.

Is it any wonder  that those forces that are most opposed to the State of Israel are the forces trying to impose a uniform rule throughout the world?


This blog offers my short reflections on Tanach following the 929 Project’s daily study. With Yehoshua behind us- onward to the Book of Judges!

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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