Will it be with God’s Help that We Win this War? Parshat Bereshit

I sat at my computer for 10 minutes and all I managed to write was OY!  I called my daughter and shared my plight with her and she said, “Imma, I have a great opening for you.” She had taped my now 26-year-old grandson as a 5 year old, asking her, “why is Granma always saying ‘shit’ when something bad happens?” And so, my daughter suggested, “since your blog is going to be about parshat bereshit, here’s a good opening. Elohim bara shit! God created shit.”

Now this is not so far off, because God created a world that was both good and bad.  At the beginning it was all good.  It was SO good that on the Sixth Day, after creating Man/Woman in His image, “He saw all that He had created and behold it was very good—ve-hinei tov me’od” (Genesis 1:31).  One can only wonder if the God who is up there watching his world is thinking to himself. “Did I make a mistake? Why in the world did I create mankind to F… up my paradise?”

I’m sitting here in front of my computer trying to make up my mind, whether to panic and go back to our village center and see if there is some bottled water available (since there was none in the supermarket this morning) or to fill up all the empty water bottles in the house. [This was at the order of the Home Command—pikud ha’oref]. I went out into our backyard storage area and found the bottles of water that I filled up for the last war—which ever one that was—and have never used. My lemon tree is now enjoying that water. So that’s one less decision to make. There are no home deliveries in the foreseeable future and friends have already offered to shop for me, but I have more than enough food (both in the freezer and dry goods) to last a long time.  If we have a real emergency in our neck of the woods, like no water and electricity, on top of everything that is happening here, that will be another story.  In the background, I hear our fighter planes going in the direction of Gaza and every now and then different booms, which means rockets are heading towards our neighbors in Beersheba or Rahat and that they are going into their shelters. Except for Shabbat, the first day of the war, we did not experience any sirens in Omer. But the rest of the country certainly did. [In editing this, I realize I gave our community an ayin ha’ra, the evil eye—for around 1 PM sirens and booms were indeed heard today in Omer. And as I finish the final edit of this blog, the entire country is experiencing rocket attacks and war might break out in the North].

On Shabbat — Simchat Torah here–our services were cancelled because of the matzav (situation) and we did not get to finish the Torah and then start from the beginning. Just imagine!  Moses is still alive and the world has not yet been created. Back to earth the next day, when it was relatively safe, our rabbi delivered plants to the people who were supposed to be honored for their contributions to the synagogue this past year. Except for my husband falling (which we joked was the first casualty of the war) all is relatively normal. My neighbors’ children (who are not in school) are playing in the outside yard) and I hear their sounds of laughter as they jump on the trampoline. They don’t even look up when the planes pass by. The sound of fighter planes is the new normal for them. I also wanted to feel like normal last night when I taught my first-class of the season on zoom. It was the Joseph Cycle—but reading about the sibling rivalry and how cruel and unfeeling brothers can be to each other, was too close to home. So much for being normal.

After that, I went into another zoom session to hear a very moving speech by a former general who saved his family. In theory, I only check the news twice a day to keep up with what is happening, but in reality, I break down and check in even more. It is a compulsion in Israel to know what is going on, for we are a small country. I can say without exaggeration, that every one of us knows of someone who is close to us, who was either murdered, or kidnapped or possibly both, by the Hamas. And each and every one of us has a son or daughter, a spouse, a grandchild, a niece or nephew who has been called up to serve in the IDF.

Even though the country is supposedly a united front against the terror, the bickering and blame is going on. Someone this morning said, as my husband went into kupat holim–our local infirmary–for his blood test, that the entire government consists of war criminals—פושעי מלחמה. The general last night said that if we don’t finish off the Hamas in two weeks’ time, we will be in trouble.  Someone asked in the chat, “how can we trust the same people who got us into this mess, to get us out of it?”  There was no answer to this.

And then this morning I read something which really infuriated me:

Reroot yourself in what you should never have forgotten—which is that we have enemies not because of what we did or didn’t do here or there, or on this day or that one, or because our hasbara isn’t good enough or because it is too good, or any other pointless argument. It is because we have vicious enemies, and they hate us. Instead of trying pathetically to curry favor with American overlords by scrubbing Judaism from your streets, pray to HaShem to fulfill the promise made to Isaiah and deliver vengeance. Reject, with great force and wrath, the death cult that has gripped so much of American political, public, and intellectual life and that sees virtue in propping up benighted regimes in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We don’t need an integrated Middle East, because we don’t wish to integrate with the murderous mullahs and their packs of wild animals. We have our own interests, and if we’re smart—and if we wish to survive—we’ll never forget it again (here).

You may be wondering what part of this statement angered me. Was it the raving and ranting of the author against the American government and its President [the same one who sent us very generous military aid, who is a true friend of Israel, despite his dislike of Bibi]? Was it his demonizing the entire population of the Middle East as murderous wild animals? Of course both those statements bothered me. But what bothered me the most was his call to pray to HaShem [sic] to fulfill His promise and deliver vengeance.  It is this type of thinking which has got us into the mess, namely, too much reliance on God’s protection; too much thinking that we are God’s chosen people. [As I write these words, I hear again ten very loud planes going overhead to deliver not God’s vengeance, but the Air Force’s attack on Gaza in response to Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel].

Now it is true that there is a biblical God of vengeance—but more often than not, that vengeance is directed against his own people—especially when they/we sin.  It is a very dangerous mandate. The idea that victims are responsible for what happens to them was actually propagated yesterday when Yossi Shelli, the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, blamed the partygoers and made excuses for the government in a very unfortunate interview on Channel 12. In this interview he accused the “nature party” at Rei-im of contributing to the loss of control over Hamas’s terrorist attack. He said in the interview:

“True, there was what happened on Shabbat, there was also this party that contributed significantly to this chaos–היה גם את המסיבה הזאת שתרמה תרומה בלתי מבוטלת לכאוס הזה. I don’t blame, but sometimes,  it’s cumulative conditions that cause…” Read here for the entire writeup. 

I am tired of hearing people blaming victims. Or of self-blame. Bad things happen to good people. It is bad enough when God blames us for what happens to us. However, neither our God, nor the God of our ancestors has anything to do with the great evil that has been committed on our country by Hamas. There will be a heshbon nefesh (a reckoning) later on, when this will all be over. Right now, we are in an existential fight for our survival. Most of us are doing our share, even if it is collecting socks and underwear for soldiers; or clothing for people who have lost everything; sharing our homes with survivors who have lost theirs and/or have been evacuated from their communities, or sitting with people who are waiting for their children’s bodies to be identified, so that they can be buried and then sit shiva.

I’m still sitting at my computer and rereading my opening words. “Yes,” I answer my grandson (who has been called up to serve in the IDF), “God created a world that is both good and bad. And sometimes, the bad overcomes the good.” We are sitting here waiting for some rays of light, not like sitting ducks, but neither with any certainty. I don’t have confidence in the bombastic statements that victory will be ours. But we have no choice but to believe that the same people who got us into this will get us out.  Is my faith misplaced? Perhaps!

In our parsha this week it says that “God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). But the famous statement from Isaiah 45:7 which is a response to God’s creation of light and dark, is that He is responsible for both good (shalom) and evil.

אֲנִ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין ע֔וֹד זוּלָתִ֖י אֵ֣ין אֱלֹהִ֑ים … יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה עושה כׇל־אֵֽלֶּה׃

I am GOD and there is none else; Beside Me, there is no god…I create light and create darkness, I make shalom and create evil—I GOD do all these things.

Today it seems as if the forces of evil and good are in conflict with one another. One would hope that the latter (shalom) will win, but it is difficult to make predictions when you are in the middle of a fight for survival. Let us hope that by next week, we will have a clearer picture.

So, I will continue to sit in front of the TV with its constant barrages of fear and terror. At the same time, I pray for the safe return of those who have been kidnapped by Hamas.  I pray that they return to us in peace and that in time they will recover. I pray too, for the health of those who are wounded and for the safety of our soldiers and security forces.

But as for now, in the words of the late Ehud Manor, we don’t have another country. He wrote the following song in 1986 when his brother was killed in the War of Attrition:

“I have no other country Even if my land is on fire….Here is my home, I will not be silent, because my country has changed her face. I will not give up on her; I will remind her….Until she opens her eyes….Aching in the body, hungry in the heart, Here is my home!”

This song was chosen this year as THE song of the State of Israel to honor our 75 years of the existence. How prophetic can a song be? The link to the song is here. My hope is that if and when we survive this new catastrophe we will finally have 75 years of peaceful existence.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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