יום שני, 11 באוגוסט 2014

The Challenge of Independence

Not by might, nor by power,but by my spirit
Pinchas Leiser
The renewal of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, and even more so, the existence of the State of Israel, presented the Jewish people once again with the need to employ force (excepting, of course, the armed rising in the ghettoes during the Shoah). The establishment of the State in a region partially populated earlier by another people - in contrast to one of the misleading statements attributed to Lord Balfour: 'A land without a people for a people with-out a land' - created a situation of national conflict which, through the years, developed into a violent conflict yet to be concluded,.
It is interesting, in this context, to note that the chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinate objected to the Zionist Movement and the establishment of the State of Israel prior to the coming of the Messiah. The sharpest formulation of this approach was penned by the Rabbi of Satmar, Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum, mainly in his book "Vayoel Moshe" and in the essay published after the Six Day War "Al Hageulah V'alHatemura." In his writings, primarily in "Vayoel Moshe", the rabbi bases his firm opposition to Zionism on the "Three Oaths" midrash which he reads as halachic law negating struggle for establishment of a Jewish state. The midrash is based upon three passages in The Song of Songs:
I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field, do not wake or rouse love until it please.
I adjure you, O maidens of Jerussalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field, do not wake or rouse love until it please.
I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalemdo not wake or rouse love unitl it please.
This midrash is built upon the traditional interpretation of The Song of Songs, which reads the scroll as a metaphor for the relation between the Holy One and the Congregation of Israel.

What are these three oaths?
One - That Israel not rise up on the wall.       
And one - that the Holy one adjures Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
And one - that the Holy One adjures the idolaters not to oppress Israel too much. (BavliKetuboth 111a)
Rabbis and religious thinkers who supported Zionism - or at least did not oppose it on theological grounds - coped with the Satmar Rabbi's theological arguments in various ways, Some saw the "three oaths" as aggadic texts without halachic significance. Others argued that the oaths have already been voided, because the nations of the world have already violated them. And there were also rabbis who interpreted "not to rise up on the wall" as not building a Temple rather than as mass immigration into Eretz Yisrael and establishing a state.
A group called "Brit Shalom", a movement established in 1925 by Jewish intellectuals, even sought to create co-existence between Jews and Arabs by relinquishing the right to set up a national homeland for Jews in the Land of Israel, as formulated in the Balfour Declaration. This movement called for the setting up a bi-national autonomy under rule of the British mandate, one in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy full equality of rights, political and civil. Among its members and supporters were, among others, Arthur Ruppin, the philosophers Martin Buber and Shmuel Hugo Bergman, Kaballa scholar GershonSholem, educator Ernst Simon, and the first president of the Hebrew UniversityYehudah Leib Magnes. Other supporters included businessman Shelomo Zalman Shoken and the British statesman Herbert Samuel. This movement became marginal to Zionism after the majority of the Zionist Congress rejected its views and sought to establish a sovereign Jewish state under the British mandate. Among the Arabs, too, there was no willingness to cooperate with this movement. In August 1930, the group disbanded.
Even Rabbi Aaron Shmuel Timrat (1890-1931), who was a proponent of spiritual Zionism and a critic of political Zionism and an especially acute opponent of the glorification of force, pointed to the spiritual danger lurking for the Jewish people:
How great the pain! How terrible the loss! If there was a single nation in the world, Knesset Yisrael, which longed for the vision of Isaiah: "No nation will lift a sword to another nation" - along come our "Balfourian young men [In the Hebrew original 'avreichim Balfouriim' - a caustic reference to Yeshiva students - Trans,] and they dishonor that too... for the sword has not left the nations' hand for a second, and they are sunk in battles and skirmishes from generation to generation. The force of inertia pushes them to war. But that Jews should suddenly crave the beauty of "the warrior's hip' wearing a sword - they are degrading the prophet Isaiah with raised arm" (Timrat:             Three Unethical Matches, p. 40, in: Holzer, E., A Double Edged Sword: Military Activism in Religious Zionism. The Judaism and Israel Series: Faculty of Law, Bar Ilan University; Hartman Institute and Keter Publishing House Ltd., 260 pp. (Hebrew)
I do not intend, within the framework of this dvar Torah, to examine the arguments of the opponents of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel in a historical perspective; the State of Israel is an existing fact and for this we bless the Lord, but there is no doubt that these currents within Jewish thought raised moral dilemmas to the surface, and it seems that we cannot ignore them.   
Our parasha can prove an interesting lab for testing to what degree the Torah cautions us against the ethical dangers awaiting us upon our entering the Land of Israel. In Chap. 5, verses 11-20, Moshe points to a problem: "The Lord brings you to a good land, a land of wheat and barley... a land where not in penury will you eat bread , , , and you shall eat and be sated," And once sated: "Beware you lest you forget the Lord your God and not observe His commandments... lest you eat and be sated... and your heart become haughty and you forget the Lord your God who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slaves"... and then: "And should you say in your heart: My strength and the power of my hand made me this wealth" For should you forget: "And should you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, and worship them and bow down to them, I bear witness against you today that you shall surely perish, Like the nations that the Lord causes to perish before you, so shall you perish, inasmuch as you would not heed the voice of the Lord your God".
This stern statement identifies the position of "my strength and the power of my hand" with "and you will forget the Lord your God". This position leads the Jewish people to destruction and its fate will be no different from that of the residents of the idolatrous residents of the land. Further on, Moshe points to an additional danger awaiting the people upon its entry into the land (Devarim 9:4-5):
Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God drives them back before you,         saying, "Through my merit did the Lord bring me to take hold of this land and through     the wickedness of these nations is the Lord dispossessing them before you. Not through your merit nor through your heart's rightness do you come to take hold of their land but through the wickedness of these nations is the Lord our God dispossessing them before you and in order to fulfill the word that the Lord swore to your fathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
An Israelite nation entering the promised land, when other nations have been evicted because of their sins, is liable to deceive itself and think "It will not happen to us", because we are better. In these passages, our teacher Moshe warns the people against this dangerous illusion: You are not better; the natives were expelled because of their behavior, the land was given to you because the Holy one entered into a covenant with the Patriarchs, but Eretz Yisrael, a land "where the eyes of the Lord your God are upon it" is sensitive to the behavior of all who dwell upon it, it vomits the evildoers, and if you behave as did your predecessors, your fate will be similar to theirs.
Some might say: These words were said by our teacher Moshe for his particular time, in the context of a final testament of a leader aware of what will happen in a future not under his control, There is no doubt that the admonitions in the Book of Devarim reflect, on a human and literary level, the understandable concern of a leader who knows that his time has passed; there is much pain in these chapters, and many midrashim describe Moshe's difficulty in accepting death and the fact that he will not enter the Land of Israel.
But are we to be content with this literary and psychological reading, seeing in these words only the story of Moshe and his generation? It seems to me that we can apply some of Moshe's concerns and his warnings to every historical situation that a nation exiled from its land has to cope with when establishing a sovereign and independent society on its land, with new challenges and dilemmas not faced "in the desert". A condition of plenty and wellbeing are liable to be taken for granted; accomplishments in various fields (security, science, tech-nology, sport, economics) are liable to engender moral blindness. After the Six Day War - and the many songs of victory are testimony to this - the sense of power-intoxication grew, and somehow many of our leaders - and not necessarily the less intelligent among them - believed that "time works in our favor". Many of our leaders and not inconsiderable segments of the nation understood sooner or later that this illusion is rooted in "my strength and the power of my hand." Sadly, this faith that all our problems can be solved by the employment of force and that "what doesn't work with force will work with more force' is still found among some of us. Even the Second Lebanon War did not succeed in arousing some degree of doubt regarding the limits of power. Even more - the statement "in my merit did the Lord bring me" is liable to instill in us the feeling that we are always right in whatever we do. This feeling sometimes blinds us to the inequities done by us as a result of this arrogance.
Rav Kook was also aware of the moral and spiritual danger hidden in the return to "world politics":
We left world politics due to coercion, which contained inner desire, until the arrival of a fortuitous hour, when it will be possible to lead a kingdom without wickedness and barbarism; this is the time for which we hope. It is understood that in order to realize it, we must awaken with all our forces, to utilize all means which the hour provides, all controlled by the hand of God, creator of all worlds. But the delay is a necessary one; our soul is disgusted by terrible sins of government in bad times. Now the time has come, very close, that the world will be established, and we can already prepare ourselves, for we can already administer our kingdom on foundations of goodness, wisdom, justice and clear divine enlightenment. Yaakov sent Esav: 'Pray let my lord cross on ahead of his servant' - it is not advantageous for Yaakov to engage in government at a time when it must be bloody, when it demands the capacity for evil. Of necessity we received only the basis for establishment of a nation, and once the stock reached maturity we were denied rule, we were dispersed among the nations, we were sowed in the depths of the earth, until (such time as) "The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of pruning has come; the song of the turtledove is heard in our land." (Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, Orot p.13)
Has the time come to forgo the enlightened use of power in the face of realistic security threats? Unfortunately, this time has yet to arrive, but it does seem to me that at "age 64" we cannot and perhaps we even must not allow ourselves to ignore the essential moral dilemmas, to differentiate between the judicious use of certain methods without glorifying them and converting them into an ideal, as in the words of the prophet Zachariah (4:6):
This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit - said the Lord of Hosts.
Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra explained: Not by might, nor by power - As I saw the oil, made without human assistance and burning, so will the Temple be rebuilt, not by Zerubbabel's great might nor by his power, but by the spirit of God and His assistance.
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist

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