I had my fifteen minutes of fame this past week with two media appearances. A picture of me at a Sunday Night Tehillim Gathering here in Cleveland appeared in the local daily paper and the Jewish weekly. I became famous without having uttered a word.
Had I been asked, these are the words I would have uttered:
Much has been said by Israeli and Pro-Israel politicians and activists that is 100% accurate… And yet there is something missing from the arguments.
Praying is important. And yet there was something missing from the selection of prayers.
To make a public communal statement, e.g. by means of a rally, is a valid means of letting our brethren as well as the world at large that we stand with our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Yet something specific needs to be said.
This is what has to be said:
Our supporters point out that if Mexicans with the support of their government bombed American cities, every American would agree that the USA would have the right to defend itself and invade Mexico.
They correctly point out the sadistic nature of our adversaries, who purposely target non-combatants and use children as shields.
Our political advocates say that no other nation would be expected to tolerate the kind of murderous nonsense Israel has put up with.
Our advocates are absolutely right!
But the bottom line is that these arguments in our defense don’t matter if we have no right to be there in the first place!
Our right to defense is based on the right to possess the thing we are defending.
And our right to possess the thing we are defending is that it is a gift given to us by the Creator and Owner of the world.
Stated another way, the bottom line is that the right of Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael is based on the promise, the Oath, God made to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov that the land would be ours.
Living thousands of miles away, I still support this right, just as it was supported by Yosef, the prototype of the successful Golus Jew, a man who lived 100 of his 110 years outside of the Land. Yet before his death, this cosmopolitan leader announced to the nascent Jewish people that they should recall that God would remember them and return them to the Land promised to them.
We need to acknowledge the “God of Israel” angle of this story.
We need to, because the political reality in this day and age is that without the oath, our enemies have a point.
Our secular defenders will point out:
But…We drained the swamps!
We made the desert bloom!
We are innovators in high tech industries!
We are the only democratic country in the Middle East!
This is all 100% true.
But none of it matters if we have no right to be there.
In a purely political sense, our circumstances are similar to European settlements in Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries: South Africa, Rhodesia and Algeria to name a few. Europe in the 1800’s was getting crowded and smelly, so Europeans found an underdeveloped continent to colonize. They built beautiful communities and nation-states in areas of pristine beauty. (Jews of course were eager to leave swaths of Europe for more vital reasons, but that’s besides the point.)
When the African natives began to protest the presence of these white interlopers in the mid-twentieth century, the Rhodesians and Afrikaners said, “But you’re savages”. They answered back, “Whatever. So what?”
They said, “You were building your homes with sewage and urinating in your drinking water before we came.” They said, “Right. But it’s our continent.”
They said, “Your tribes did nothing but slaughter each other with machetes before we arrived.” They retorted “It’s not as simple as that. But regardless, it’s ours.”
The natives of Africa screamed, “In a century when native ethnic groups throughout Europe and Asia – who had spent centuries as nothing but fiefdoms of empires- were granted the right to self-determination, you cannot deprive us of that right by saying you would do a better job – just because your hometown in Europe got crowded. It’s ours!” It took some time to resolve the dispute. But ultimately, the European settlers blinked and lost. The French left Algeria in 1962. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1979 and the White South African government was dissolved in the early 90’s.
The Arabs have been making the same claims against us for about a hundred years. They say “It’s ours!” And as long as they have the strength, they want to be in this fight for the long haul.
We might try to make the pragmatic argument and say, “We won it in a war, fair and square. Just like the British colonists won North America.”
However, the ancient political truism “To the victor go the spoils” that sanctioned innumerable conquests of cities, states and continents for millennia seems to have lost its moral force sometime in June 1967.
We need to say, “It’s ours because of the oath God made to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”
I know, I know: It’s embarrassing to say so in polite company. It sounds so primitive and archaic. The Bible? How quaint.
But it’s the only thing that has ever worked for us.
An Israeli pop singer recently wrote in an impassioned plea to the people of Gaza that the current fighting is the result of “fanaticism”. Theirs and ours.
The truth is the exact opposite: This new round of tzoros started 20 years ago when we stopped being “fanatics”.
Our recent history is breathtaking: Jews who had abandoned all connection to ‘organized religion’, who would promise you they were atheists and Marxists, had a connection to the Holy Land. They perceived themselves, and were perceived by others, as another brand of European colonialists. And yet, they rejected Uganda. In their kishkas, they knew their claim to this land was based on their Creator’s promise as recorded in Tanach. When they knew it, even instinctively, we won in miraculous wars in ’48, ’67 and ’73.
At some point, the second generation of the State was educated to doubt and second-guess the claim. That’s when the other side smelled weakness.
Many years ago, I read an illustrated story on the back page of an Olomeinu magazine. There was once a miserly man who denied knowledge of a large sum of money deposited with him in haste very late on an Erev Shabbos afternoon. The visiting man who claimed to have deposited the 200 Rubles came to present his proofless claim to the town rabbi. The rabbi devised a plan, and told the miser: “Why not get this annoying guy off your back? Pay him 100 Rubles to get him to leave you alone.” The fellow agrees, and tells the rabbi, “You’re right. I’ll give him some money so he’ll leave me alone.” The Rabbi then says “Thief! You’re not willing to part with your own money for just causes but are willing to pay this guy off?! It’s because you know the money is not yours.” The thief shows contrition returns the funds to their rightful owner.
We have spent the past sixteen years talking like that man. Israelis stopped believing it was ours. Why then do they stay? Well, what are you gonna do…There are five million of them and and they can’t very well all head to New York and L.A. So they tried to pay off the noisy natives. “Here’s Jericho. Now leave us alone. Here’s Gaza. Now would you please get off our backs. We are trying so hard to be nice. Why can’t YOU be nice?!”
They’re not nice because they KNOW what our bribes mean! It means we think we’re ganovim! “Listim Atem.”
Every chapter of Sefer Bereishis tells us of our right. We think our showing them the Book of Genesis sounds primitive, so we say nothing. Never mind that Ahmadinejad gets up to the podium at the UN and talks about the Twelfth Imam who’s hiding in a cave somewhere, (a Shiite Muslim legend) and nobody says boo. The Jewish People are too embarrassed to tell the world, “Bereishis Bara Elokim is our sanction! You may hate it, but you know it’s true. You have all known this for 2000 years!” There is nothing to be ashamed of! On the contrary, it’s the only argument we have left that spares us from shame! The fact that our enemies are barbaric animals who will sacrifice their own babies and ambulances doesn’t seem to impress the Nations of the world, doesn’t seem to impress a whole lot of Jews, and sadly, doesn’t seem to impress God Himself. When we quote God’s words, “Lecha Etein Es Eretz Cnaan”, To you I will give the Land of C’naan, He is impressed and bends History accordingly!
Sixty years ago, Jews living in Eretz Yisrael give Jews in the rest of the world Chizuk (strength and resolve) by forming a State. I am well aware of the heated rabbinic views about the merits of Political and Cultural Zionism that went on at that time. But one’s particular feelings towards the ideals and leadership of the Zionist movement or the “heresies” involved are really besides the point. Even those who opposed the apikorsim couldn’t help but get Chizuk. A fundamental of Yiddishkeit, including all the Prophetic promises about the Ingathering of the Exiles, and awakening of Dry Bones, that lay dormant for 2500 years, were transformed from a dream a zillion years in the future into something tangible we could hear about in real time, see, touch, smell and taste!
This past generation has witnessed much of the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael lose its resolve. So now it is our turn to give them Chizuk with our prayers and resolve, bequeathed to us all by Yosef Hatzaddik, “Pakod Yifkod Eschem.”, “God will remember you and return you to the land promised to Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov.”
They have strengthened us. Let us strengthen them. And the entire nation will become stronger.
Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazeik.