I would like to think that most of us in Israel recognize something that our allies consisting of Western Democratic countries either do not recognize or choose to ignore because it makes them uncomfortable; the struggles, wars, intifadas and waves of terror that accompany them, which we confront here in the Jewish state of Israel, are not founded upon strategic planning or even military tactics and control, nor are they solvable based on compromise and diplomacy. The volatile confrontations we deal with here are ones which are deeply rooted in religion and premised upon our faiths and beliefs. The fact that the Temple Mount continuously finds its way into the heart of the heated contest between both sides, is telling enough. While there may be some members in our government who may choose to deny this, I believe that the majority of the government and of the Israeli public understands this all too well which is why the solution (one would like to think there is one even if it does not appear on the immediate horizon), has little if anything to do with negotiations. Arguments and disputes of spiritual nature cannot be solved and do not manifest themselves through physical means, which is what makes them so challenging in the first place. While I do not have a solution for this issue, I recognize the value of deriving a message which can reinforce our understanding of who we are and what our nation represents; a message that has consistently ensured our survival and is worth reviewing, a religious message which often comes from the most unexpected of places.
Our son Yakov is an observant young man who is serving in a brigade in the army which predominantly consists of non-observant soldiers. His brigade, currently guarding one of the borders, comprises 121 soldiers of which only ten are observant. My wife and I drove to his post on Friday before Shabbat to visit with him and his comrades. When we arrived, the staff sergeant, who is not observant, was addressing Yakov’s platoon in preparation for Shabbat which was swiftly approaching. After he reviewed all of the security measures and precautions he concluded his instruction by stating that there was a most crucial issue he wanted to address. He went on to explain how the holy day of Shabbat, the day when religious people rest, would soon begin, and while he understood that the majority of his soldiers did not observe the Shabbat, including himself, it was extremely important to be respectful of those who did. He asked that soldiers not speak on their cell phones in front of Shabbat observers, that they maintain composure around them, and if soldier’s parents were coming to visit them on Shabbat that they too should be careful not to infringe upon the peace and serenity that the observant soldiers sought during the Shabbat day. Finally, he insisted that this post was strictly kosher and that any food brought by parents for their sons on Shabbat, should not be brought into the confines of their camp in order to ensure that the standards of kashrut are maintained both out of respect for the observant soldiers and for the sake of soldiers who would assume this position next. The staff sergeant seemed certain that his orders resounded throughout his troops but I don’t think he realized how much those same orders penetrated the heart of an innocent bystander. His words reminded me that while many of my fellow Israelis were not observant they were Jewish and deeply religious; religiously united, religiously humane, religiously driven by a common nationality and an altruistic cause.
The current wave of violence in Israel waged by Palestinian terrorists is undoubtedly frightening, but it would serve us well to remember what we represent and what the perpetrators of terror and violence do not. One outstanding (and disturbing) feature of this recent wave of terror as many have pointed out, is that the attacks are executed by youth who are easily influenced by the satanic rhetoric emanating from their mosques and the provocative lies emerging from the Palestinian authority itself. These youth are desperately searching for a calling and longing to believe in something or be a part of some notion but unfortunately all that is offered them from their so called leaders and mentors is violence and chaos, a road which inevitably will lead to their demise.
Abraham, the founding forefather of our nation, realized that there were two components necessary for people to embrace faith in one God; peoplehood and compassion. He consistently invited people to partake from his hospitality seizing any occasion to engage in theological dialogue and allotting his guests opportunity to become part of a group who were longing for something constructive and principled. These principles remain the tenets of our faith as they have in the past and they will continue to imbue us with resilience regardless of the consistent threats to our existence.
With the arrival of the month of Kislev, Hanukah is upon us. On Hanukah we celebrate the miracle of the oil which lasted for eight days and the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greek and Syrian dominion in Israel. This year however, with all that is going on around us, there is an additional element to reflect upon during the festival of lights. Nachmanides talks extensively about how the Hasmonean dynasty lost their control of the Jewish nation and their influence in Judea. He explains that the Hasmonean’s were priests and not entitled to rule as kings over the Jewish people, a right which belonged exclusively to those from the tribe of Judah. Although there was a temporary need that justified their ascent to the throne, nonetheless they should have returned the glory of kingship back to the tribe of Judah in due course which they did not do, and their abuse of power lead to family friction, sibling rivalries, and power mongering. Their infighting spawned hatred amongst the Jewish people and ultimately the Hasmoneans did to themselves what the Syrians and Greeks could not do.
Our enemy’s attempts to wield their weapons and espouse hatred are painful but short lived as they have been throughout our arduous history. This coming Hanukah it behooves us to remember what history has taught us consistently; that self-inflicted wounds are often the most fatal and that so long as our modern day Judah the Maccabee can stand up in front of his soldiers, observant and non-observant alike and demand that they respect one another, perhaps our salvation will be miraculously revealed once again.