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We have been thrown into a terrible time

“We have been thrown into a terrible time”
So, what will the intellectuals do?
Be a messenger of life

We were forced into this terrible time.
We move through the difficulty of mourning – what’s already been called “The Shivah” / 7th of October, and between the nerve-wracking experience of “waiting”, and the fear of the difficult days ahead.

“And when the country suddenly will need
them to lie in the mud in a ditch
you won’t believe how they appear,
Like cyclamen among the rocks
The beautiful faces of this land hide”. (Ariel Horovitz)

But in the midst of the terrible and awful days,
Israeli society reveals its beautiful face,
expressing the moral and spiritual strength of so many men and women who rose to the challenge.

It is difficult to properly express the appreciation and admiration for everyone who heard the call – even when it didn’t actually call them – and with such a strong spirit of devotion, fought and struggled and protected and saved.

  • the thrill of meeting Israeli-ness at its best, with so many who heard the call and gave up “the big trip abroad” or flew back on the first plane they could find, in order to stand with their brothers and sisters in war.
  • the admiration for the circle that surrounds, as widely as is possible, the families of the soldiers and reservists, and the generous donors.
  • It’s like opening your eyes and seeing that our disintegrated society knows how to come together—to volunteer, encourage and support—and finds every possible way to be there for all of the evacuees and the refugees and the mourners.

And what will the intellectuals do?

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the author Leah Goldberg told how she was repeatedly asked the same question: “What will you do?”, which she felt was intended to mock her and other intellectuals.  In times of war, the necessity and importance of military personnel and people of action is clear. But what do poets do? Perhaps they will sit at home and write war songs?! She took the questions very seriously, and answered simply and profoundly: our task at this time is to write songs about the love of life, about creation, about hope, so that there will be good and deep reasons to protect this life.

“It is not only a right for a poet in the days of horror to sing a song
to nature, to the flowering trees,
to children who know how to laugh, but a duty,
the duty to remind a person that he is still a human being.”
(Leah Goldberg, “On the same subject”, September 1939).

The important role that Leah Goldberg assigned to intellectuals was to express the deep meaning of the justice of the war, so that it’s clear that there’s something to protect  and fight for. The moral expression of this position was well formulated by Albert Camus, who, in an essay written during the days of liberation, wrote about the obligation to fight against evil. But he emphasized that this obligation must be fulfilled while maintaining the orientation of justice and goodness. It is within the power of the forces of good to defeat the forces of evil, so long as they are willing to fight for justice and goodness. “The sight of a just man renouncing his human dignity will loosen the hands of all just men and of justice itself.” (Albert Camus, This Time I)

In difficult days like these, we should not be satisfied with a simple intuition that we are right, and that we are fighting for good. It is appropriate to devote some thought to the values for which we are fighting. Because, amidst all the great evil, there is also great hope, great responsibility, and moral values.

Be a messenger of life

A life of meaning, a commitment to dialogue and affiliation, the restoration of fraternity, the acceptance of responsibility — all of these join Leah Goldberg’s important statement about the role of intellectuals in declaring loyalty to the values of life.

It is our duty to “remind a human that he is still a human being,” and to state the obvious, that there are eternal values, which are the ones that “make life more precious”. For them, we should fight and ensure that the flags of justice and good will return to the top of the mast.

“Inside me there is something very strong that I believe in. I would like to imagine that everyone would see himself next year in Simchat Torah, reflecting himself in these dark days, and saying to oneself: this is true, it was shocking, painful, nightmare, sad, frustrating (and more). But I know that I was in this situation, the best I could be, I did what I could, I acted as much as I could, and today I am a better, greater person, a much better messenger of life.” (Yael Shevach)

About the Author
Full Professor, Dept. of Jewish Philosophy, Bar ilan University. His research is dedicated to Contemporary Philosophy and Modern Jewish Thought, especially to the philosophical writings and Jewish thought of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. His last book "Hebrew Humanism - Humanistic Judaism", Idra Academic Publisher summer 2023
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