Consider and reflect upon an astonishing
thing: Everything happens in its time for the good. The
[Torah] portions which we always read during the Three Weeks,
Matos, Massei and Devorim, discuss the victory of Israel
over the nations and the division of the [Promised] Land
– the diametric opposite of the terrible events that
happened during this time [the destruction of the Temple].
Sometimes we also read Pinchas during this period, which
discusses all the holidays… related to the fact that
in the future “these days will be transformed into
joy and gladness and holidays” (Zechariah 8:19) –
Shaloh Mesechta Taanit
As the Middle East enters
a second week of war with Israeli troops expanding their operations in Southern
Lebanon launching a ground assault against its sworn enemy Hezbollah – and
our hearts and prayers go out to all innocent lives being lost – its hard
to ignore the connection to this period in time when we remember the war destruction
of Jerusalem two millennia ago by the Babylonians and then again by the Romans.
No one is disputing the
fact that the Hezbollah attack against Israel – and indeed the entire existence
of the Hezbollah – is founded on the principle of conquering Israel and is
being fueled, funded and armed by Syria and Iran – the location of ancient
Babylon, which at its height included the land that is now Syria and a large
part of Iran (Persia).
Babylon of old attacked Israel. So did the empires of Assyria, Persia,
Ptolemy, Rome, Byzantine, the Crusaders,
the Arabs and Ottomans. And the same story is now being replayed in the same
geographical area – is this a coincidence?
After 2428 years since
the Babylonian destruction and 1938 years since the Roman destruction of the
Holy Temple why is Jerusalem still
And what can we do about
As we compare this most
recent conflict with previous ones, striking parallels and differences stand
The most obvious parallel
is the never-ending battle over this small piece of geography called Israel.
But what is far more striking
– and disturbing – are some of the unique differences that distinguish the
current battle from previous ones.
One of the most obvious
issues today is the lack of strong leadership and clear moral direction. Yes,
every normal person or country agrees that Israel has a right to defend itself from wanton
attacks on its innocent citizens. But is that enough?
We still hear questions
is responding in “disproportionate” measure. For some reason, many people
are questioning whether this is a justifiable war? Why? Would the same be
said if, for instance, terrorists were launching unprovoked missiles from
Algeria to France,
or from Mexico to the United States?
Is it possible that Israel
is being second-guessed because Israel
itself is suffering from an identity crisis and lack of
clarity? Yes, under attack all of Israel
is united in the commitment to defend itself at all costs.
But the haunting questions remains: The six million Jews
living in Israel
are surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims
most of whom (if not all) do not want Israel
there. If they had there way, and there was no military
deterrent, a large number of them would actually support
the elimination of the Jewish State (G-d forbid) and even
those that may not go to war against Israel would not be greatly disturbed if Israel ceased to be.
In such a hostile environment
what good reason is there for Jews to live in Israel, surrounded by millions
of enemies? If you moved to a neighborhood with high hopes for a comfortable
life and then the neighborhood deteriorates, what would most people do? They
would move to another neighborhood.
Is it possible that many
are wondering the same about the Jews in Israel? Do Israelis themselves
have this question? And if they do, what is the answer.
factor in the current battle is the new type of war being fought. Previous
wars involved defined nations, with defined borders and clear targets. A war
against terrorists – whether it is in Baghdad, Lebanon, Gaza, London or New York City – poses
a new set of challenges: Whom exactly are you fighting? Where is the enemy
located? This type of war requires new terms of engagement.
Why is it that Israel’s
victory in 1967 against four major countries, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq
took only six days, and now their battle against one upstart terrorist organization
is already over 9 days old and far from ending?
Some would argue, that
a war against defined countries is far easier to fight than one against terrorists
embedded in tunnels and caves within a countries infrastructure, hiding behind
civilian shields, with arsenals dug in beneath hospitals and schools. Other
may contend that the six-day war was A Divine miracle.
Another factor may be
that it is far easier to win a war when there is strong leadership, and an
army passionately motivated by a defined vision and goal – as it was in the
war of 1948 and 1967. Does that passion exist today?
Years of slow-bleeding
battles and relentless terrorist attacks have worn down many people. The ultimate
question is this: Why in the first place are Jews living in a hostile neighborhood?
And even if you have an
answer, what is the game-plan? How will this all end?
Questions abound. Many
But we are never abandoned
in our questions and doubts. The Jewish people have been here before. Throughout
their long history of persecution, their ultimate solace and strength came
from the Torah, called the Torah of life – a blueprint to face every challenge
During the Three Weeks
of destruction we read in the Torah chapters that address the issues swirling
around Israel and Jerusalem under siege – as the Shaloh writes in the opening
quote of this article: The [Torah] portions which we always read during
the Three Weeks, Matos, Massei and Devorim, discuss the victory of Israel
over the nations and the division of the [Promised] Land – the diametric opposite
of the terrible events that happened during this time [the destruction of
Barely a consolation,
yet the battle over Jerusalem is
not new. And by looking at the past we can learn much for the present and
This Shabbat we also bless
the month of Av. Av consists of two letters: Alef and bet – an acronym for
the two nations that destroyed the two temples: Adom (the Roman
Empire) and Babylon.
Our troubles in the Middle
East did not begin today. They are an extension of unresolved forces unleashed
millennia ago – events that set in motion a series of conflicts that plague
us to this very day.
is the Western, Christian world – descendants of Esau.
Babylon is the Eastern, Arab, Muslim world – descendants of Ishmael.
All global confrontations are a result of the strange bedfellows
created back in the home of Abraham (see Abraham’s
So what does all of this
have to do with current events? How do historical roots help us deal with
our present challenges?
The three chapters we
read during these Three Weeks contain some answers:
Pinchas – Healthy
Pinchas is the only zealot
ever condoned in the Torah. Pinchas took a stand against a public atrocity
and killed the perpetrators, consequently saving thousands of lives. Pinchas
is subsequently rewarded with the “covenant of peace.”
What does this teach us
about modern day zealotry and its dangers? Haven’t we learned our lessons
over history of the grave destruction perpetrated in the name of G-d by religious
As discussed at length in a previous article (Religious
Violence), Pinchas was the ultimate model of
a peaceful warrior: When confronted with cruelty some people
shy away in fear, others become morally ambivalent and yet
others become radical zealots, mercilessly killing innocent
people in the name of (distorted) faith.
Comes Pinchas the man
of peace and tells us that there is another option: No extremes, no bringing
in your own personal prejudices and feelings of aggression or passivity, violence
or comfort zones. Pinchas teaches us simple selflessness to protect and defend
innocent lives. Zealousness – but in peace.
What we learn from Pinchas
is the exact opposite of killing in the name of religious zealotry. Violence
against other people, especially innocent ones, can never be tolerated – no
matter what its cause. Any justification of violence, whether it is in the
name of religion or in the name of fighting for a cause, is unequivocally
deplorable and goes against the laws of G-d. Anger and murder resulting from
religious feelings is perhaps the most dangerous of all, because the “holy
war” helps mask the venting of personal aggression.
On the other hand, Pinchas
teaches us, just because religion has been abused and used to perpetrate atrocities
we shouldn’t fall to the other extreme of not fighting for any values. We
must never lose sight of right and wrong, but at the same time we must learn
from the past how to fight for it with selfless passion.
What is needed today is passion – but guided by humility.
G-d – but guided by love and compassion. We need a
zealot today. A true Pinchas that will rise and defy conventional
thinking. Not a murderous zealot but a zealot of peace.
Today we are called to join forces in a zealous and passionate
against all form of extremism and violence, including those
perpetrated in the name of religious zealotry. To counter
the passion of misguided souls ready to blow themselves
up, we need to zealously defend and promote the Divine principles
of justice and peace – and all in the spirit of unity
and love fueled by selflessness.
Matos-Massei – Fortitude
in the journey
“Matos” (in Hebrew) are
stiff, firm rods. “Massei” are journeys, referring to the forty-two journeys
of the Israelites through the Sinai Wilderness on their way to the Promised
Life is a journey – a
series of journeys – toward the Promised Land. Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov explains
that each of us goes through 42 journeys in our lives.
The journey toward the
Promised Land (even when we may be living there) is a difficult one – as witnessed
time and again throughout history. We therefore need the “Matos” in our “Massei”
– an unwavering fortitude, based on deep faith that gives us the relentless
power to forge ahead despite regardless of the adversary.
Life can be difficult,
very difficult. The only power to counter all our hardships and enemies comes
from a profound, unwavering, connection to knowing the purpose of our lives
and knowing without a shred of doubt that our fight is just; an absolute,
unbending (“Mattos”) moral certainty in our calling, and the resulting absolute
determination to see the journey through.
Where do we get this fortitude?
Devorim – Divine
“These are the words which
The fifth book of the Torah documents the words that Moses
spoke to the people in the last 37 days of his time on Earth:
“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel
beyond the Jordan in the wilderness,
in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel,
and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.”
Moses was the ultimate
leader. Knowing that he has a short time to live, and recognizing the difficult
challenges laying ahead, Moses – as a true leader – delivers his final words
in order to imbue the people – then and in all generation to come – with the
strength and confidence to forge ahead and tackle every possible issue. Moses
examines the events that occurred over the last 40 years since they left Egypt, he discusses the relationship
the Jews had established with G-d, G-d’s instructions to them, and he encourages
them to carry on these teachings for the generations to come.
More specifically, Moses reviews the difficult journey
of the Jewish people toward the Promised Land and reaffirms
the reason for their journey – to forge an invincible
bond with G-d that will empower the people to transform
the material universe into a Divine home. Moses offers the
Jewish nation strong words of encouragement and direction
that by holding on to their connection to the Divine they
will be able to face any challenge, no matter how difficult.
Moses’ words live on forever.
Especially in time of war and challenge we need the powerful, unwavering words
of Moses to infuse us with hope, courage and direction.
Above all, Moses’ words state the ultimate – and only –
justification for the Jewish presence in Israel
“Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess
the land which G-d swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to
Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after
them” (Deuteronomy 1:8).
“Israel, listen to the laws
and rules that I am teaching you to do, so that you will
remain alive and come to occupy the land that G-d is giving
you (4:1). Safeguard and keep them since this is your wisdom
and understanding in the eyes of the nations (4:6). Only
take heed and watch yourself very carefully, so that you
do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let
[this memory] leave your hearts, all the days of your lives.
Teach your children and children’s children”
And the end game?
“G-d will then bring back
your remnants and have mercy on you. G-d will once again gather you from among
all the nations where He scattered you… [and] bring you to the land that your
ancestors occupied. G-d will be good to you and make you flourish even more
than your ancestors” (30:3-5).
Meanwhile – Moses concludes
– “be strong and brave” (31:6).
It’s amazing that after
all these years the secret to redemption eludes us but still remains in our
hands: “Zion will be redeemed
with Law and its captives with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27. Haftorah of
Torah study and charitable righteous deeds will redeem
Zion and its hostages.
How much longer will Jerusalem
burn? That’s up to us
* * *
Question for the week: How far should
Israel go in its war against Hezbollah,
and what should be the “end-game”?
a question for future weeks.