Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

tent

“For pass over to the isles of the Kittites, and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, which yet are no gods? But My people has changed its glory for that which does not benefit.”

Jeremiah 2:10-11

“The Kittites and Kedarites are tent dwellers and cattle herders. They travel nomadically from pasture to pasture, from wilderness to wilderness, carrying their gods with them to the place where they encamp. I, however, carried you until I established you firmly, but you abandoned me.” (Commentary of Rashi)

Read “Diaspora Jews” in place of “Grecian Jews” (i.e. Jews of the Greco-Roman empire), and it seems to me a sad but accurate description of affairs even today.

“For Jews lived not exclusively in Palestine; from ancient times they had established Congregations among the Greeks, and spread more and more, the gloomier the aspect of affairs grew in their own land. Although they felt deep sympathy with the sufferings of their brethern left in their old country; although every woe which befell Palestine, their original home, found the deepest response in the hearts of the Grecian Jews; although they looked with reverence toward the sacred Temple, which ever remained their mother soil: yet they were exempt from the struggle going on there. While arms clashed in Judea, all energies were roused from day to day to attend to the wants of the day, to endure labors and hardships, to avert animosities, — while thus in Judea mind and strength were directed entirely toward the present, the Grecian Jews were, after all, only passive spectators, who beheld with profound grief, perhaps also under the derision of the Greeks, the coming destruction of their holy land, the speedy loss of their spiritual centre. Such were the sentiments of the Grecian Jews.”
      –Judaism and its History, p. 229

SepherHechaloth

antiisrael

We constantly hear in the media and from left-leaning individuals and groups, as well as from the United Nations and the spokespeople of the various world nations, about the evils perpetrated by the State of Israel any time it takes defensive actions against the groups or individuals that have sworn to destroy it. The enemies of Israel, which include terrorist organizations, various Arab countries, as well as radicalized Muslims within its borders, continually attempt Israel’s destruction through targeting, endangering and murdering its citizens through aggressive acts of war or terrorist attacks.

Yet the heat in the media and the world stage is always directed against Israel. She is always the culprit, the aggressor, the criminal, the abuser, the genocidal murderer. It has long been decried in the pro-Israel media the blatant bias and hypocritical double standard of Israel’s detractors. The same defensive actions by any other country are hailed, while vicious genocides taking place routinely in Muslim countries are ignored. It is only Israel that may not defend herself. It is only Israel that must turn the other cheek to its would-be slaughterer, and that evokes the anger, hatred and condemnation of the world for defending itself and overcoming its attackers.

Well folks, it may surprise you to know that this is NOT a phenomenon unique to the modern State of Israel or to our “civilized” age. Rather, so has it been from the very beginning of our history. Since the inception of the Jewish nation in ancient times, the ire and rage of the nations has been directed at Israel for the simple crime of not getting stomped underfoot by those who would destroy her.

Imagine my shock at finding this phenomenon articulated ever so openly in a midrash — an ancient Jewish oral tradition — concerning the events in this week’s Torah portion.

This week we read B’Shalach, in which, after the crushing cataclysm of the Ten Plagues destroys the once-mighty Egypt, the nation of Israel emerges, under Divine protection, and crosses the Red Sea amid indescribable miracles, even as their former oppressors pursue them to bring about a “final solution.” We all know the story — the Egyptians drown in the Sea, the Israelites are delivered safely upon dry land, and the scene climaxes with the simultaneous outburst of prophetic song known as “the Song of the Sea.”

In that song, the people of Israel declare, “The nations heard and became enraged (שמעו עמים ירגזון)!” Why would the nations become enraged when they hear of Israel’s miraculous delivery from Egypt at the sea? Wouldn’t they be awed? Inspired? Humbled?

The Midrash comments:

MechiltaBShalach

‘The nations heard and became enraged’ — When they heard that G-d lifted Israel [above its enemies], they became angry. G-d said to [the nations]: ‘How many kings have been appointed among you, yet my children (Israel) did not become enraged? … How many sovereign governments have been established among you, yet my children did not become angry? … Now [that Israel is ascendant] you are angry? … I will give you cause to be angry that you do not desire!’

The midrash calls out the nations for their own devilish hypocrisy and shameful double-standard. Every nation has the right to independence, sovereignty, security — except the nation of Israel? Where was your indignation when they were an oppressed minority in Egypt? Now that the Egyptians are under the foot of Israel, you shout about “war crimes”? Have the actions of the nations ever held a moral candle to those of Israel or the Jewish nation? Can any nation claim a superior record of the defense of human rights or contributions to the betterment of the condition of humanity than the Jews? Turn your words toward yourselves, you hypocritical fiends! For when you defend evil and point the finger of blame at those who are just, you invite that evil upon yourself.

How sad for the world that the lessons of history continue to be ignored.

Dear Readers,

I recently published a piece describing how King Achav (Ahab) of Israel captured his enemy, Ben-Hadad, the King of Aram, and was ordered by the prophet to kill him, but preferred to be merciful, and let Ben-Hadad free. The prophet censures Achav for this, and tells him he and his nation will suffer for this misstep.

Indeed, in the following chapters, we find Ben-Hadad again and again breaking his promises of peaceful brotherhood with Israel (which he offered to Achav in exchange for his life), mounting numerous war campagns against Israel. Achav is killed in one of these wars, after which his son becomes king.

In another incident of Aram mounting a war against Israel in II Kings, Ch. 6, the secret position of Aram’s army is exposed to the King of Israel by the prophet Elisha. Finding out about this, Ben-Hadad orders that Elisha be found and captured. In the attempt, Elisha puts the Aramean army under a trance and leads them straight into the city of Shomeron where the entire army is captured by the King of Israel.

This time, the King of Israel asks Elisha, “Shall I strike, my master?”

MelachimB6-21-22

Based on the prior incident, in which King Achav was rebuked for not destroying his enemy when given the chance, one would think that this time the King of Israel had asked appropriately and would be granted permission to dispose of his enemy, thus securing safety for his people. In that light, Elisha’s answer is puzzling:

Do not strike. Do you strike the one you have taken captive by your sword and by your bow? Put bread and water before them, let them eat and drink and return to their master!

Suddenly the message of the prophet is one of mercy! What changed? Why is this situation different? Indeed we will find that just as before, the enemies are allowed to escape, and this once again becomes a prelude to another invasion from Aram later on. Why did Elisha instruct the king to let the enemy go?

I have a few thoughts but I’m not entirely certain. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Saving the World

Posted: January 1, 2015 in Israel, Mussar (Ethics), News

Here are some posts about the especial quality of Torah learning (that is, the study of Torah for it’s own sake) to heal the world and bring about its perfection.

Saving the World, part I

The True Zionists — Saving the World, part II

Kollel: A Dirty Word — Saving the World part III

As I heard Rabbi Berel Wein once say (though I’m sure he’s said it many times), “Tanach (Bible) is not a history book, it’s today’s newspaper.”

I have been energized by Israeli MK’s Naftali Benet’s recent initiative to have as many Israelis (and Jews generally) learn one chapter of Tanach a day, in order to strengthen our understanding of our historic mission and unbreakable link to our destiny in the Land of Israel. Nonetheless, I haven’t been following the daily prescription according to the “new order,” that is, starting all together from Chapter 1 of Genesis and proceeding forward. Since, as a Torah-observant Jew, I read the weekly Torah portion, I will complete the Five Books of Moses once annually anyway. So, in addition to my weekly “dose” of Torah, I am adding one chapter a day of the books of the Prophets.

That said, I have been, for years, trying to make slow progress through these books, and have already completed Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Isaiah. (I skipped Kings because I had intended to learn that together with a study partner, though that didn’t materialize, so I started it on my own after finishing Isaiah.) I am now completing the 20th chapter of I Kings (Melachim Aleph), and I have some thoughts to share.

We live in a time in which Israel’s continued existence constantly comes under threat from its enemies (who are everywhere, not just in the Arab countries surrounding the Land of Israel, or within its tiny borders). And despite our efforts to “defend ourselves,” our issues of security never seem to become resolved.

What can we learn, or shall I say, what are we CALLED UPON to learn from our holy books? (For that is their purpose, is it not? To learn from them, not to coldy read from them as some kind of quiet entertainment.)

Here is what I found in my reading for today. In short, Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram (modern-day Syria), wages war on Israel time and again, continuously seeking its destruction, but is thwarted again and again, not because of the righteousness of its kings, but because of the mercy of the great G-d of Israel. Before Ben-Hadad can attack Israel again, a prophet comes to the king of Israel and tells him (I Kings, 20:28):

Melachim20

“The Man of G-d (i.e. prophet) approached and said to the King of Israel, and said, “Thus said the Almighty (HaShem): Since Aram said that the Almighty is a G-d of mountains (only), but He is not a G-d of valleys, I have given all this great multitude (the army of Aram) into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Almighty.”

Did you catch it? No, it was not a typo, because it’s in the Hebrew, too. That’s right — the verse says “and (he) said” twice. “The Man of G-d (i.e. prophet) approached and said to the King of Israel, and said…” Why twice? What does this add?

Rashi’s comments are illuminating.

Melachim20-28Rashi

Rashi points out that there must have been a SECOND statement, in addition to this one, that the text does not record. Based on a comparison with later context, Rashi concludes that the second statement was that once the king has Ben-Hadad in his grasp, he should NOT show him any mercy! As we will see, the king will be reprimanded for not following this dictate (yet if the prophet had not said it, it would not have made sense later for the king to be taken to task for this, as we shall see).

So, of course, G-d was right and Israel defeats Aram again, and this time, the King of Aram is desperate for his own survival. Of his army of over one hundred thousand men, only he and a few close servants survive and find hiding.

Melachim20-31

“[The king of Aram]’s servants said to him: ‘Behold now, we have heard that the kings of Israel are kings of kindness. Let us please put sackcloth upon our loins and ropes upon our heads and go forth to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will allow you to live.”

Isn’t it amazing how our reputation as kind and merciful (and our predilection to be duped by our enemies’ false sincerity) hasn’t changed in three millenia? But you don’t think the King of Israel falls for this one, right?

Melachim20-32

Wrong! “They girded sackcloth upon their loins and ropes upon their heads, and they came to the King of Israel and said: ‘Your servant Ben-Hadad said: ‘Please allow me to live!” [The King of Israel] said: ‘Does he yet live? He is my brother!'”

At the first sign of a peaceful overture, the Jewish king is filled with nothing but love for his former enemy.

The King of Israel then makes a pact with his newfound “brother,” and sends him peacefully back to Damascus to his rule.

The prophet then disguises himself and appears to the King of Israel on the road, and asks him to resolve a dilemma:Melachaim20-39-40

The prophet in disguise tells the king that he was among the soldiers of Israel who had gone out to war with Aram. While at war, another soldier brought him a prisoner, telling him to guard the man with his life, or deserve a penalty. Nevertheless, the prisoner escaped. The king replied, “You decided your own sentence!” I.e. You accepted upon yourself the terms when you agreed to guard the prisoner, now face the penalty!

The prophet then reveals himself and explains that this was a metaphor for the king’s own actions.

Melachim20-42 Melachim20-42b“[The prophet] said to him: ‘Thus said the Almighty: Since you sent away My enemy from your hand, your life shall be in place of his life, and your nation in place of his nation.”

This confirms Rashi’s explanation earlier that the King of Israel must have been likewise commanded to “guard his hostage” and not let him go as he did, just like the man in the prophet’s parable.

So as Berel Wein said, these scriptures are today’s news. Will we learn from history and cease to accept the false promises of those who have sworn to destroy us? As Rashi has explained, sometimes the seemingly merciful course of action is that which is most unwise.

J-Street needs to read the Tanach.

[Paranthetically, I think it worthwhile to examine one more of Rashi’s comments to this passage. HaShem calls the king of Aram “איש חרמי,” which I have translated, based on Rashi, as “My enemy.” Rashi offers an alternative translation of the word חרם, that is, “entrapment.”

Melachim20-42Rashi

It was as if HaShem was saying to the King of Israel: “How many traps did I set for you until [the king of Aram] fell into your hands!” Over and over HaShem offered the King of Israel divine assistance in entrapping his enemies to that he may be victorious over them, yet the King of Israel has squandered all these efforts. Will we make the same mistakes? It appears to me that, G-d forbid, we are.]