Daniel Landes

Response to American friends

Our destiny is neither that of becoming the victim, nor becoming victimizer

I wish to thank you all for writing and expressing your worries and concerns about us, particularly after the last round of sirens in Jerusalem just several minutes ago. All of you wish to know how we are “holding up” and what is our emotional and spiritual situation.

This is a traumatic moment for the Jewish people. But this moment could very well be a long period. The tragic deaths of the three Jewish teenagers and shameful murder of the Arab boy, and now rockets falling all over Israel and Israel’s determined response… these have jarred us all. Is there a context in which we can put this?

One of Rav Kook’s great teachings, which I was taught by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the “Nazir” David Cohen and my grandfather, the Menachem Zion, deals with the extraordinary nature of the Jews’ return to the land of Israel. Rav Kook understood this return not only regarding its salvic nature, but also regarding its revelatory content. A return reveals much about us as we reencounter the land and its challenges. Rav Kook taught that at this juncture all that is possible within the nature of the Jewish people will come to its fruition, including the bad and the good — the tragic and heroic. Revelation in this sense is not only transformative, but it is also, as it were, purgative. The bad is driven out just as the good is revealed.

This is what we’ve experienced in these past several weeks. We’re not immune to such terrible things happening to us, and we’re not free from our own worst parts. But our destiny is neither that of becoming the victim, nor becoming victimizer. Rav Kook taught that the best qualities of the People Israel, its kindness and its goodness, as well as its strength and resilience, will prove to be the deciding factors. This we see playing out at this very moment. Israel is doing its best to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza in every possible way. The police, over all, is treating the Arab population with great restraint, and even at times with gentility; at the same time, Israel is determined to protect its citizens and to end the evil perpetrated by Hamas. It’s a difficult tightrope walk.

After receiving the Torah at Sinai, the Jews returned to their tents and wept according to the Midrash. There are many explanations for this: the best one is that they wept out of recognition of the great moral responsibility that had been placed upon their shoulders. Here too in Israel, we can weep, but we also must act, and this Israel is doing — acting in the best way possible. And as we act, we pray for peace.

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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