Peace? Efshari.

Our situation is totally crazy making. As I walk the Jerusalem shvil, the red and white jumpsuited power walker pounced once again upon me. This time it is not a sharp anti-religious barb lobbed as he passed me by, but rather a strange confession: “I actually prayed – and I know what shit prayer is – for the three.” He looked sad and guilty so I tossed him a bastardized version of Pascal’s wager: “It’s all a gamble: if you bet on God and He doesn’t exist then you really haven’t lost anything; if He does, then maybe it helps somehow to get them back.” Passing me, he grunted, “efshari” (possible). Later that day I’m in a Mea Shearim makolet that sells the local zealous religious rag. Its Hebrew headline – “3 Jewish Boys Grabbed by the Palestinians”. A kaftaned Hassid grabbed it anxiously, slipped a few coins from a purse and ran out. We are so driven nuts that the secularist is looking for a heter (permission) to pray, and the Neturei Kartaites are experiencing Klal Yisrael pangs. Our big Jewish family could use a therapist.

The anxiety runs deep. It begins with the Biblical Dina, daughter of Jacob, who was kidnapped by the son of the local chieftan, Shekhem. The tribe is not going to give her back. Jacob and his sons are driven to distraction. Distraught about this abduction and its implications for the future, Jacob listens to what Shekhem’s father Hamor proposes: that the two groups amalgamate and peace shall reign. To the reader’s surprise, Jacob is ready to agree. Hamor proudly and confidentially tells his people that soon all that belongs to Jacob will be theirs. As we know, Jacob’s son’s led by Simeon and Levi through “cunning” find a way to both free Dina and to destroy the tribe’s military capacity.

If our people had a family therapist, she would tell us that we today are repeating old family patterns, and that they actually may be appropriate: we are grieving and attempting to not freeze up in our panic attack of what we fear the most – our children being taken away from us. So we express deep feelings that have religious overtones and we seek group solidarity.

We go further in repetition of our family patterns in the current situation. As Jacob and his sons we “just” want our children back. And we employ every skill and “cunning”, as the Bible calls it, to make that happen. But we ready ourselves to refuse to make or accept any offer that will be self-destructive. We reject that response of Jacob that would acquiesce to the external threat, to lie down and surrender.

And we continue to repeat the story. We, as the sons of Jacob, are attempting to deliver a “heavy blow” to our enemies. Part punishment, part revenge and a goodly part is to prevent further terror of this sort. That is the rationale for harsh action on the way; and family history and Jewish theology supports it.

But we have not gone far enough. Jacob’s sons having been successful in returning their sibling, and having severely hurt their enemies, justify their actions to Jacob by claiming that it is morally impossible to allow an Israelite to be abandoned. However Jacob’s worry about the overall security situation is not addressed. “You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land… I being few in number, they shall gather themselves against me, and slay me and I shall be destroyed, I and my house” (Gen. 34:30).

Jacob’s lament lingers in our consciousness. We know that necessary brutal actions will not gain us any friends, and will intensify animosities if such a thing were possible. Whilst the world, so far “allowing” a strong response in this particular case, is not walking away from the Palestinians as a group, despite our Prime Minister’s clear expectations and demands. Therefore it is crucial now, at least for the sake of preventing further kidnappings, to seek an accord with the Palestinian Authority. As we crush Hamas, the PA-Hamas ties unravel. It’s not that the West Bank have changed their minds about us. They hate us. But the PA and their supporters are committed to a legal, rational government, which means treaties, responsibilities and at the least coordination with us. That is why we have had many workable understandings and cooperations. We need to try to find a way to overcome serious and certainly silly obstacles such as the Arab acceptance of Israel as the Jewish state. My powerwalking friend and the anxious Hasid already they know who we are. Our family therapist would say that we are responding well to the sons of Jacob, but for their – and our – father’s sake we need to think of peace not as impossible, but at least as efshari.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Landes is founder and director of YASHRUT, building civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance. YASHRUT includes a semikhah initiative as well as programs for rabbinic leaders.
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