Between Oslo and Dimona: Parashat Vayelech 5776 – Yom Kippur 5777

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both spending a busy day on the campaign trail, and as luck would have it, they both walked into the same shop. Hillary turns to Trump and tells him, “Boy am I starving. If I don’t eat something this moment I’m going to die”. And with that she snatches a roll of bread and puts it in her pocket. “Shame on you!” says Trump. “This is yet another example of the political dishonesty that I have spent the last year campaigning against. Truth be told, though, I’m also starving. Let me show you how it’s done”. Trump turns to the shop-owner and asks him if he wants to see a magic trick. “Sure”, says the owner, and with that, Trump takes a bread-roll and stuffs it in his mouth. “Now you see it, now you don’t!” he says. The shop-owner asks him, “And where is my roll?” Trump answers “In Hillary’s pocket”.

It’s not only the politicians that are trying to look their best. It’s the time of year in which Jews around the world are becoming pedantic about mitzvot that we were not pedantic about only a few weeks ago. The Rambam writes in the Laws of Repentance [3:4] “It is customary for all of Israel to give profusely to charity, to perform many good deeds, and to be occupied with mitzvot from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur to a greater extent than during the remainder of the year.” The reason we are so pedantic this time of year is because the amount of mitzvot that we accumulate by Yom Kippur is essentially a matter of life and death. The Rambam writes in the Laws of Repentance [3:3] that “the sins of every inhabitant of the world together with his merits are weighed on the festival of Rosh HaShanah. If one is found righteous, his [verdict] is sealed for life. If one is found wicked, his [verdict] is sealed for death.” On Rosh HaShanah Hashem adds up all of a person’s mitzvot and subtracts all of his sins[1]. If the total is positive, then the person lives another year. If the total is negative, then this person is, well, in trouble.

The problem with Rosh HaShanah is that we spend an inordinate amount of time in the “macro” and insufficient time in the “micro”. Let me explain. Years ago in Australia we who had friend who suffered a heart attack on the beach. Suddenly he went into cardiac arrest. It just so happened that at the very moment his heart stopped, a lifeguard happened to be riding by on his quad-bike (tracteron), giving him enough time to ride to the sstation, to pick up the life-support equipment, and to administer CPR before any brain-damage occurred. Anyone who hears this story would say that our friend’s life was miraculously saved. But wait a minute – who was the one that caused this person to suffer a heart attack in the first place? It was also Hashem! Well, couldn’t Hashem have saved a lot of time and anguish by not causing my friend’s heart to stop beating in the first place?

There is an important principle here that we are missing. The Talmud in Tractate Sotah [21a] teaches that a mitzvah cannot extinguish a sin nor can a sin extinguish a mitzvah. A person will be rewarded for every single mitzvah that he performs regardless of his sins, just as he will be punished for every single sin that he performs regardless of his merits. For whatever the reason, Hashem had determined that it was time for our friend to die. Fortunately, our friend had accumulated the necessary merits to continue living. True, there are times and situations where the sum total of a person’s actions are analysed and weighed, but this is in addition to his individual actions, and not instead of them.

And this, predictably, brings us to Shimon Peres, who died last week at the age of ninety-three. Peres was one of the last living founding fathers of the modern State of Israel. He was twice the Prime Minister and he served as President of Israel[2] for seven years. While Peres began his political career as a conservative, he slowly and inexorably moved to the left. He was one of the fathers of the Oslo Accords in which the State of Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people, and he began to work with the PLO on a peace treaty based upon the “rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination”. The Oslo Accords led to a Nobel Prize for Peres, Yitzchak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat, but were rejected by about half of the Israeli people, and their implementation nearly led to a Civil War. Shortly after the accords were signed, the Palestinian terror organizations, with the tacit approval of the PLO, began a horrific suicide bombing campaign in major Israeli cities, killing hundreds and thousands[3] of Israelis. I remember after each terror attack how Peres would call the victims “Korbanot HaShalom” – “Sacrifices of Peace”. It used to make me white with outrage. To say that Peres was vilified by many Israelis, myself included, is an understatement of monumental proportions.

And then there is Dimona, specifically, the “Negev Nuclear Research Center”. The centre – or the reactor (koor) as it is called here, was constructed beginning in 1958 under total secrecy. People were told it was a textile factory. Shimon Peres was its most diligent backer and it was he who requested and received assistance from the French government to fund and to build it. Nobody in Israel is completely certain what is going on in Dimona, but lots of people are certain that it has to do with nuclear weapons. Israel has always been extremely opaque about whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons, usually stating something along the lines of “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.” Whatever the case may be, the possibility that Israel can wreak destruction of massive proportions on her enemies is a dominant factor in their relationship with Israel. This deterrence is one of the factors that enables Israel to exist in a volatile and precarious Middle East. Without the foresight, the statesmanship, and the tenacity of Shimon Peres, Israel would have no Dimona and our defence posture would be vastly different. It is my firm belief that when Shimon Peres stands before a Heavenly court, he will be lauded for Dimona just as he will be called to task for Oslo.

If Peres, while he was alive, was a study of contrasts, everything changed after he died. His funeral was attended by a list of leaders and dignitaries that is too long to include here. But certain names stand out: President Barrack Obama, Former President Bill Clinton, the last three Canadian Prime Ministers, Prince Charles, the President of France and the King of Spain. The airwaves are rife with quotations of verses from the prophets that predict that one day the dignitaries of the world will come to Israel. Whether or not we witnessed the fulfilment of these prophecies does not concern me. And whether these dignitaries came to the funeral because of Dimona or because of Oslo is inconsequential. What is important is that these dignitaries – the leaders of the free world – came to Israel to for the sole purpose of honouring a former leader of the State of Israel. Peres’s honour has become our honour, and by extension, Hashem’s honour. In his death, Peres was responsible for a Kiddush Hashem – a sanctification of Hashem’s name – of monumental proportions.

For whatever the reason, this was the message that Hashem chose to leave Am Yisrael on the last Shabbat of 5776. We must have done something right[4]. May it be Hashem’s will that 5777 builds upon this geopolitical momentum, momentum that is driving Am Yisrael and indeed the entire universe inexorably towards redemption.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776-7

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka, Adi bat Ravit, and Esther Sharon bat Raizel.

[1] Not all mitzvot or sins are created equal. Some are worth more than others. When Hashem takes His Divine Integral, mitzvot and sins are weighted according to their Heavenly-determined value.

[2] The President of Israel has traditionally been a ceremonial apolitical position. Shimon Peres was the first president with an overtly political agenda.

[3] The actual number is subject to debate and to political affiliation.

[4] If only we knew what it was…

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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