This was clearly a low point for the Jewish people.
It was the fortieth year of the sojourn by the Jewish people in the desert, and they were tired. Their parents’ generation had died because they refused to enter the Land of Israel. Their children, however, were different. Still, the endless stops and starts, shortage of water as well as the difficulties in navigation were beginning to get on their nerves.
At that point, Moses, as told in this week’s Torah portion, had an idea — a shortcut that would take the Jews directly from Kadesh in the Zin Desert to the Land of Israel. There was one catch. The route was through the kingdom of Edom, not exactly a historical friend of the Jews.
Perhaps there was hope: Edom came from Esau, the brother of the patriarch Jacob. Moses tried an appeal to brotherhood, recounting the slavery of the Jews in Egypt, their rescue by G-d and the long trek to the Promised Land.
Edom was not impressed. Instead, the king boiled with rage.
“You shall not pass through me, lest I go out towards you with the sword!” Edom replied.
Moses tried reason: The Jews would move rapidly through Edom, restricted to any road selected by authorities. They would be buy food and water although they had plenty of both. It was win-win.
“But he [Edom] said, ‘You shall not pass through!’ and Edom came out toward them with a vast force and with a strong hand. Edom refused to allow Israel to cross through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.”
What was Edom’s problem? And if the kingdom would not allow the nation of Israel to pass, then why did G-d tell Moses to initiate? Didn’t the Jews have enough troubles?
G-d was teaching the Jews a lesson in history. Edom might be the descendant of Jacob’s brother; he might know more about the Jews than any other nation. But he does not want to be your friend. He will not help you. Instead, he will use every opportunity to hurt you.
There have been two oppressors in Jewish history. One has been Babylonia/Persia. For years, they ruled the Middle East. Sometimes, they were cruel, other times benign. When they were cruel, a Talmudic sage such as Rabbah Bar Bar Hana longed for Edom.
“Master of the Universe,” Rabbah cried out in Tractate Gittin 17A, “either [let us be] in Your shadow or in the shadow of the Romans!”
Edom ruled the Land of Israel. During the Second Temple, the Jewish leadership virtually handed over their kingdom to Rome, the descendants of Edom. The Hasmoneans invited Rome to mediate their disputes, and when civil war erupted each side beseeched the empire. Eventually, Rome took over the Jewish kingdom and destroyed it. When the Jews revolted, millions were massacred by the Roman legion and Judaism was outlawed. Many Jews fled east to Persia, where they were given autonomy.
During the last century, Edom returned. The British captured Palestine from the Ottoman Empire and broke their promise to give the Jews a homeland. Instead, they incited Arab violence, trained Arab armies and even provided air support for Egypt and Jordan during the War of Independence in 1948.
“The British Government is launching a new war against Israel — even as direct armistice negotiations between Egypt and Israel are getting under way,” the American Zionist Emergency Council, which represented all Zionist organizations in the United States, said on Jan. 10, 1949. “The evidence is clear and unmistakable.”
After the war, the British were replaced by another branch of Edom — Germany. Like the Hasmoneans, the Israeli leadership sold the sovereignty of the new nation. The leadership imported Hitler’s favorite composer, Wagner, whitewashed German guilt of the Holocaust and ignored Bonn’s development of the missile and weapons of mass destruction programs of Egypt and Syria.
Finally, the Americans arrived. For a few F-4 fighter-jets, Washington was granted veto power over the security of the Jews. In 1970, Israel signed a U.S.-sponsored ceasefire agreement with Egypt, which it immediately violated. Three years later, the United States ordered the Jewish nation to turn the other cheek as an Arab coalition attacked along two fronts. As the Americans explained, it was a matter of Arab honor. Nearly 3,000 Israeli soldiers were sacrificed.
Today, G-d has removed the yoke of Babylonia/Persia. An Israeli Jew can travel throughout most of the Middle East. There are synagogues that operate in the Gulf. In October 2021, Syria invited exiled Jews to return and considered the restoration of synagogues.
Now, America rules the Jewish homeland. It makes no sense to even refer to the “State of Israel” when Washington controls every facet of life — whether the government, military, intelligence community, media as well as the health, legal and financial systems. For the price of a visa, the outgoing Israeli government has agreed to violate privacy laws, open borders unconditionally and relay to Washington financial and other data that essentially turns the United States into the sovereign. Rome would have smiled
This was exactly G-d’s lesson to the Jewish people. Edom is a master of language, image and culture. But I will show Moses the real Edom — unrelenting in its hate for Jacob’s children. They cannot be bought by money, pity or warm words.
Still, the Jews saw G-d’s protection as well. Edom threatened and rushed troops to the border, but did not manage to harm any Jew. When Aaron, the High Priest, died, he was buried in the mountain that faced Edom.
The message was clear: The Jews will return.