Even if it is divine punishment we must stand with Lebanon.
Many people are calling the blast a knockout to Lebanon’s slow spiral into a “failed state,” as the outgoing Lebanese foreign minister Nassif Hitti framed it. The entire country has defaulted with 92 billion dollars in national debt in March of this year and many are pointing fingers at Hezbollah, a recognized Lebanese political party, as the source. A report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted that Hezbollah has been syphoning a half to a full billion dollars in Lebanese revenue for years contributing to the slow and painful decay of Lebanese economy and stability. For months citizens have suffered under 35% unemployment, low electrical output throughout Beirut often for only 4 hours a day, towering prices for food and basic living costs, and the falling value of the Lebanese lira which has been reduced to about a fifth of its value against the US dollar. Furthermore, Transparency International has designated Lebanon as very corrupt, ranking it at 137 out of 180 countries with 41% of public service users reporting paying a bribe throughout 2019.
And so this blast is a knockout to an already failing state full of corruption. Here in Israel a few groups and political activists have labeled this a major blow to our enemies to the north. After two bloody wars with them perhaps this is some form of Divine retribution, some claim. Moshe Feiglin, former MK and chairman of the Zehut political party, in a tweet thanked God and called the blast “a wonderful celebration.” Perhaps, he wrote, the source of the explosion was a missile cache which may have found its way to Tel Aviv some day. Still others directly connect the destruction of the Beirut port to prophecies in the later prophets of the Bible who foresee the ruin of Lebanon. They paint a picture where Lebanon is deserving of Divine retribution for their iniquities and this is their upcomance.
Without entering into the discussion of the haughtiness required to interpret prophetic historical events as absolute explanations of present-day events with no strong basis, Lebanon is about to go through an even tougher time. Aside from the steep downwards spiral Lebanon found itself on for years, much of Beirut infrastructure has now been destroyed or compromised. 300,000 residents of the capital are homeless owing to 5 billion dollars worth of damage. The damage has included national grain storehouses creating a shortage of flour and lack of food. The blast also destroyed storehouses of medicines desperately needed by crowded hospitals. In the context of already skyrocketing Coronavirus cases in Lebanon the current situation has created the pretext for an ever worsening humanitarian crisis. With a lack of jobs, lack of homes, failing medical care and a broken government Lebanon is well on the way to its disintegration.
Were I to apply it to the context of biblical prophecies I would compare it to the three afflictions mentioned repeatedly in the destruction of Jerusalem: war, famine and plague. Modern minds too have grouped these three calamities as the major afflictions of civilization since the dawn of society, as Yuval Noah Harari has noted in Homo Deus. Famine and plague are certainly to spread in Lebanon from what I can see of the above picture. And as the above report notes, the inability of Lebanese leadership to function will create the instability necessary for a possible internal war like its neighbor Syria in which many warring groups, some foreign, are fighting for dominance. A knockout indeed.
But the churban destruction of Lebanon is no reason for joyous “celebration.” Even were a prophet to arrive and tell me that Lebanon is to be destroyed by Divine decree I would not, as a religious Jew, respond with acceptance or satisfaction. In fact, I would label such a response as un-Jewish or even un-Abrahamic. I understand the security concerns that Lebanon and the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, pose to Israel’s and my own safety. And I understand the necessity of addressing that. But the destruction of a people is no cause for glee.
When Abraham is told of the destruction of Sodom, a nation-state that has become synonymous with evil, his first response was to question. Abraham could not accept the ruin of a people even by Divine decree. “Will the One who judges the world not perform justice?” was his first reaction to God. He then proceeded to try and negotiate with God to salvage what people he could. I think the message here is clear. Whether or not there is some punishment that is enveloping Lebanon or even if their own actions and corruption have sealed their fate, the appropriate response from a religious perspective should be unacceptance.
Perhaps our own corruption and moral shortcomings had sealed our own fate back in 586 BCE – the prophets say as much. They have even titled Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of Judea, as the Divine “servant,” performing the necessary evil of breaking Judean infrastructure and its capital Jerusalem. Yet throughout the Tanach the prophets are clear that those who rejoiced over the destruction of Jerusalem, regardless of its divine or moral justification, will be punished.
There are two contradictory verses in Proverbs. The first is used sometimes to defend rejoicing over the downfall of certain people that can be determined to be bad: “And in the destruction of the wicked there is rejoicing.” (11:10) But I think that in the situation Lebanon finds itself right now we would do better to apply the second verse: “Do not rejoice in the faltering of your enemy… lest the Eternal see and it be evil in His eyes and turn His fury from them [to you].” (24:17,18)
Instead we should do as Abraham once did and attempt to salvage what we can out of the destruction. “Humanity comes before any conflict,” stated Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv. The response to the destruction should be Abrahamic unacceptance and action. Despite our bloody history we must look past the military fronts to the citizens themselves and attempt to aid in any way we can.
Isaac and Ishmael are brothers, are we not?