SPOILER ALERT! For those Game of Thrones Fans out there who have not yet watched Season 8 Episode 3, “The Battle of Winterfell” please stop reading this column now – spoilers ahead!!
In one of the most epic battle scenes in television history, the forces of good (relatively speaking) prevail over the forces of evil, as humanity defeats the “Army of the Dead,” in Game of Thrones’ much-anticipated “Battle of Winterfell.”
It would be extremely complicated and time consuming to explain how we arrived at this juncture in the series, but I believe that there is a theme in this episode, looming in the background since season one, which serves as link between the fictitious world of fantasy which makes up Game of Thrones and modern-day Zionism.
And that theme can best be summarized with the now worldwide treading phrase uttered by GOT heroine Arya Stark, “Not Today.”
With the Army of the Dead on the verge of destroying the walled fortress of Winterfell and killing the thousands of defenders of the living who have gathered there, Arya is able to avoid death by hiding throughout the fortress’s labyrinth-like rooms and halls, as Winterfell was where she grew up, and she knows every inch of the compound.
However, at one point she is cornered in a room surrounded by death, alongside the characters known as the “Hound” and Melisandre the “Red Priestess,” who has witch-like and sometimes prophetic powers, which she has used for both good and for evil throughout the series.
As the scene plays out Melisandre alludes to a statement made back in Season One by Arya’s beloved teacher, Syrio Forel during her trainings to become a master swordswoman. Forel had told Arya his young apprentice, “There is only one god and his name is death. And there is only one thing we say to death, ‘Not Today.'”
Melisandre’s exact words during the scene are, “What do we say to the god of death?” to which Arya searches her memory bank and responds “Not Today.”
Arya then escapes the room and in a series-defining act of bravery, succeeds in slaying the Night King, who is the general of the army of the dead, causing a chain reaction, in which the army of the dead — dies again (so to speak) once and for all. Humanity is saved for now.
But it is Arya’s mantra “Not today,” as in, “Today, I will stay alive,” which inspires her to survive in the face of the most challenging adversity, which I believe is at the root of today’s Zionism.
But first it is important to note that Zionism is not a modern-day invention. It doesn’t originate with Herzl, Balfour, San Remo, the Holocaust, or even the founding of the State of Israel.
Zionism is in reality a movement over 4,000 years in the making, originating when our father Abraham was commanded by G-d to pick up and move to the Land of Canaan (Israel). Whether it was being thrown into a fiery furnace (per the Midrash), confronting Pharaoh and then Abimelech, his participation in the war between the four kings and the five kings, or many of his other challenges, Abraham said, “Not today,” as his mission to found the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel was not yet complete.
The same attitude was on full-display in the story of the Maccabees with “the few” fighting against “the many” Greek-Syrians and Hellenists in order to cleanse the Temple and restore its service in Jerusalem after its desecration. Despite overwhelming odds, their attitude was “not today,” and they prevailed.
After the Second Temple was destroyed and the valiant revolts against the Romans were crushed (with many including Bar-Kochba also displaying the “not today” attitude), the Jews were state-less and army-less for nearly 2,000 years.
Fast forward to 1943, living in hell on earth, a group of brave Jewish warriors rose up and rebelled against the evil Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. While those brave souls held out in their uprising for over a month and succeeded in carrying out a blow against the enemy, they eventually fell. But their “not today” mentality remains one of the greatest sources of inspiration of survival in all of Jewish history.
From there, we had the heroes of the pre-state militias fighting the British, and the against-all-odds military victories by the IDF in the 1948 War of Independence and again in the Six Day War.
And today, here in the State of Israel, it’s our brave soldiers who protect us 24/7 by air, land and sea. It’s the first response units throughout Judea and Samaria, and in our northern and southern border towns who never tire in protecting our communities against terror infiltrations, and all other forms of violence directed at our civilian populations. Or it’s the policemen/women who guard the Old City of Jerusalem, protecting our holy sites on the front lines.
And many times, it’s the armed Israeli civilian (with a gun, an umbrella, a pizza tray, or whatever else is available!) who puts him/herself in the way of harm to protect his/her brothers and sisters being attacked.
Recently, it was my friend Ari Fuld HY”D who said, “Not today,” when he was stabbed by a terrorist at the Gush Etzion Junction, who turned and chased down and fired at the terrorist using his last breaths on earth to save other lives. Or Rabbi Achiad Ettinger HY”D a father of 12, who instead of fleeing from an active terror scene decided to fight back and shoot at the terrorist saving others, while being struck by bullets losing his own life. And there are many many more examples of this type of bravery.
The next week in Israel is an emotional roller coaster. From Yom Hashoah — remembering the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust, to Yom HaZikaron paying tribute to the more than 23,000 Israeli soldiers who fell in battle or those who were killed in terror attacks since 1860, to Yom HaAtzmaut, the celebration of 71 years of independence in the modern State of Israel. There is simply nothing else like it.
And with threats still looming — from Iran and her proxies, to Hamas, and all the other terror groups who seek our destruction. And with a rise in anti-Semitism here in Israel, and worldwide (often disguised as anti-Zionism), from the Jihadists, to the extreme-left, and the extreme right, the Jewish and Zionist response, now and forever remains, “Not Today!”