Benjamin Blech

‘Take the win’

Three words capture the profound pathos of Jewish history – past and present.

Three words convey the tragedy of the world’s oppression of the Jew.

They are the unspoken yet self-understood prejudice against the one people whose simple existence seems to continue, throughout the ages, to bear the brunt of almost universal antisemitism.

“Take the win” are the words of President Biden to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in in the aftermath of a Saturday night which almost, if not for divine intervention and incredible military skill, might well have spelled the destruction of the Jewish homeland and the death of millions of its inhabitants.

Until this past weekend, Iran restricted its nefarious activities to its puppet governments. Iran hid its role as the world’s chief master of terrorism by commissioning others to do its dirty work. Unfortunately, it finally recognized that it had nothing to fear by going public. The only warning it previously received from the president of the world’s superpower, the United States of America, was the one word “Don’t!” — whose rejection was several times followed by no punitive consequences.

So Iran gleefully sent weapons of mass destruction. There were drones and bombs and cruise missiles deployed not against military bases but indiscriminately — against civilians, against homes and hospitals and gathering places of young and old, of babies, of the aged and infirm, of anyone who bore the despised appellation of Israeli or Jew. The plan was in fact to carry out a replay of the horrific events of October 7 – masterminded, we now know, in great part by these selfsame rulers of Iran.

If ever the word miracle was appropriate for an event that, if successful, would have been historically recorded as a tragedy comparable to major wars of destruction, the outcome of this war was a true miracle. More than 99% of the weapons meant to murder were rendered ineffective. And the war failed spectacularly to achieve its goals. A war to annihilate an entire people. A war of genocide. A war against civilians. A war not for land, but solely for the death of its inhabitants.

And here is the most remarkable aspect of its aftermath: What is the price Iran will have to pay for its adventure of evil against a member nation of the United Nations?

The American president has offered his “advice” — in a manner that makes it sound more like one of the Commandments on stone: “Take the win!”

Translate into simple English: When a Jew survives — even if it may have cost him a billion dollars for the weapons he required – that is “a win.” Never mind penalties, consequences, punishments, or preventative measures to insure no repeated attacks are ignored.

There is a classic story of a rabbi in Poland walking with his son on a street where custom and law demanded that if a gentile approached they would be required to move off the curb to the street, often filled with dirt and the droppings of horses. As a non-Jew came closer, the father dutifully took  his son off the curb and said to him: See, my son, that is a good gentile. What makes you say so, the son asked. You do not know him. The rabbi replied: See, the gentile noticed me. He saw my beard, my hat, my Jewish garments. We know that he hates me and he surely wants to throw stones at us. But he does not do so. He must be a good person.

And that, in the age of pogroms, of unfettered antisemitism, of open and unrestrained racism against Jews – made a rabbi spared from being stoned feel happy enough to “take the win.”

Woe to us if we have not moved on from the powerlessness of the Polish ghetto and the victimization of our European ancestors.

“Never again” post-Holocaust dare not remain merely an unfulfilled slogan. Nor should “take the win” ever be considered sane strategy for accepting the unacceptable simply because we survived.

About the Author
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, and lecturer.
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