David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

Are we cursed or blessed?

Parashat Bechukotai that we read this week describes the blessings that we will enjoy if we follow God’s mitzvot and the curses we will have to endure if we do not. In contemplating this parasha, I cannot help but wonder, are we currently living in the midst of a divine curse or a divine blessing?

Based on the events that are unfolding in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world it seems that we are in the throes of a very bad curse. On October 7th the State of Israel suffered a horrific and brutal attack against its citizens which was reminiscent of some of the worst times in our history. 1,200 men, women, children and elderly were beaten, abused, raped and butchered and 250 more were abducted into Gaza. And soon after that vicious attack, instead of expressing sympathy toward the victims, Israel was cast as the villain and antisemitism reared its ugly head in places that were the least expected. Since then, Jewish students on elite college campuses have been subject to verbal and, at times, physical assaults and many Jews around the world feel they need to hide their Jewishness in order to walk the streets without fear.

Despite the fact that almost 8 months have passed since the beginning of the war, Hamas is still holding 125 hostages in horrible and probably life-threatening conditions, and despite the IDF’s success in killing thousands of Hamas terrorists and in destroying many of its underground tunnels, much of its infrastructure and supply of weapons, almost 300 soldiers have died in combat, over 3,500 have been wounded, and rockets are still raining down on communities in the Gaza envelope. Furthermore, for the duration of the war, the entire northern part of Israel has been under constant attack from Hezbollah missiles, and over 60,000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes and communities with no end in sight.

To make matters worse, Israel’s status in the world seems to have hit rock bottom. A few months ago the International Court of Justice offered an interim judgment claiming that Israel may be guilty of Genocide, and less than two weeks ago the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even our staunchest ally, the United States, has halted the shipments of certain weapons and its leaders continue to voice their opposition to the military campaign in Rafah which Israel deems essential to the success of its war efforts.

As if this weren’t bad enough, there is a major rift between Israel’s military and political leaders regarding the goals of the war and the “day after”, with many military experts claiming that the absence of a strategic plan is unnecessarily prolonging the war, endangering the lives of the soldiers and the hostages and preventing the possible normalization with Saudi Arabia toward which the American administration has been working assiduously for a very long time. And, finally, rather than stepping aside, our Prime Minister is expending much of his energy on political machinations aimed at remaining in power and in control of the country’s most extreme and fundamentalist government in its 76-year history, leaving many of us in the center of the political and religious spectrum with a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

Thus, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that the reality into which we have been thrust is a horrible and dreadful curse. Nevertheless, I would like to make the case that, compared to the challenges that we have had to face throughout our long and arduous history, we are living at a time of extraordinary blessing.

First, although some of the tensions among us have begun to resurface recently, we have shown our solidarity and greatness as a people. From the moment the war began we have put aside our significant differences and worked together in unprecedented fashion to provide meals, clothing, medical supplies, toys, books, transportation, and emotional support for both soldiers and the thousands of families who were forced to evacuate their homes. Jews of all backgrounds, stripes and colors have contributed of their time and money to do whatever is necessary, and beyond, to help one another during these difficult times.

Second, unlike our history over the past 2,000 years, we now have an independent sovereign state. Thus, despite the most vicious attacks by Israel’s neighbors, and despite the threats to Jews around the world, we now have a place which we can call “home” and where all Jews are welcome, where we can walk freely with our heads held high, speak Hebrew and proudly display our Jewishness, celebrate Jewish holidays as national holidays, elect our own government and establish our own courts, create Jewish public schools and a vibrant Jewish culture, name its streets after biblical and Jewish heroes, and capitalize on the collective Jewish genius in the fields of agriculture, medicine, science, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. And above all, unlike the past in which we were subject to the whim, and often the cruelty, of the societies in which we lived, we can now determine our own fate and, if we fail as we often have and most certainly will again, we can correct our mistakes and work toward creating a better future.

Finally, unlike much of our history in which we were the victims of discrimination, persecution, blood-libels, pogroms, expulsions, and, of course, the Holocaust, we can now defend ourselves with one of the most powerful armies in the world. Furthermore, as we have seen since the outbreak of the war, we may very well have the best soldiers in the world whose remarkable bravery and courage are on display every single day, and who, despite losing comrades in battle, never cower in the face of the enemy and never back down, and who will keep on fighting until Israel achieves its military goals and its citizens can live in peace and security.

And so, if we managed to survive the countless attempts to defeat and destroy us in the absence of a state and an army, then we should certainly be able to survive, and even thrive, now that we have both. Thus, although much of what we are experiencing today seems like a curse, compared to our lives in the past it should be seen, overwhelmingly, as a blessing.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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