A cycle of violence, they call it. Putting the moral equivalency aside, anyone who’s been living here for a while is feeling it. Another round. We’ve been here before. It’s unclear where or how or when it begins and ends.
It’s an old story, this cycle of violence involving the people living on this land, and as the second chapter of Shoftim lays it out, it was always murky and impossibly complex. At first glance, it all seems very simple. The Jews were charged to expel the nations from the land, they failed, and so they are punished by them.
But then suddenly a most unexpected character is mentioned. Yehoshua, whose death opens the book of Shoftim, is suddenly alive again in the narrative of chapter 2. And while certain verses give the impression that all the troubles began only after Yehoshua, the last verses in the chapter suggest the opposite. In the time of Yehoshua, there were already nations that remained poised to harass the Jews. According to this passage, the non-Jewish nations were not left because of the Jewish people’s negligence or sin. God set this cycle in motion as a way to test them. Going all the way back to the book of Shemot (23: 29-30), a slightly different explanation is offered. There, the reality of the continued settlement of non-Jewish nations is a practical need of the Jewish people.
So what is this cycle about? When did it start? Why? Is it a punishment? A test? An inescapable reality? The text doesn’t provide decisive answers; it reflects the murkiness of our lives.
Two things I believe with conviction. First, that this cycle is part of a greater story. It is a tragic and bloody story, in part. But part of the story is also redemptive and reflective of Divine mercy. As I experience this latest round, I don’t know which is more hard to believe and understand- the fact that this is happening again, or the fact that even though it’s happening again (or maybe it never ever really stopped), we’re still here, in this land, living and thriving. Is it the absurdity of having to question whether to go take care of an errand in Jerusalem, or the fact that nothing happened during the time I was there? (40 minutes later, there was another stabbing attack, exactly where I had been.)
And second, as hard, frustrating, and terrifying as it is, I’d rather be living thia story than just reading about in the papers.
This blog offers short reflections on the 929 project’s daily study of Tanach. Learn more about 929 at 929.org.il.