Friday, March 06, 2015

Picking a Fight with the Other Nations?

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean, Tzomet Institute
"Things were topsy-turvy – the Jews gained control over their enemies" [Esther 9:1].
A Speech Full of Trepidation
I am writing this article before the Prime Minister leaves us to give a speech in the American Congress, in spite of the contrary wishes of the President of the United States. When you read these words, you will already know what took place, and mainly the answer to the question: Did the Prime Minister receive accolades of acclaim or was he strongly criticized? But this time the "game" is much more serious than the simple question of what the attitude of the press will be. Without a doubt, in the existing situation we are witness to a distinct challenge to the President of "the greatest of our friends" and to a dramatic strategic danger.
For the last few weeks I have felt a mild dizziness with respect to this matter, and I feel lucky that nobody has asked my opinion – should the Prime Minister go or not? I want to thank those who organized the large ad in the newspapers signed by Zionist rabbis and blessing the Prime Minster on his way, for not asking for my signature. If they had come to me I do not know what I would have done. On one hand, as a patriot I am expected to support the policies of a rightist government on the international scene. On the other hand, (at the moment that I write this article) we are approaching what might be a deep crisis which could possibly have been avoided – and who knows how far it will go? I will therefore take this opportunity to voice my reservations about the trip, in spite of my national pride. I fear – and I feel – that in this I am expressing the opinion of many people, and that I am acting as a messenger of the public.
Everybody is aware that the timing of the elections is the reason that there is a crisis, and if not for the close proximity of the elections and the speech it would be easy to sweeten the pill of a talk to Congress that is "hanging over the President's head." I therefore have a simple question: What calamity would there be if the Prime Minister's speech would have been postponed to the day after the elections in Israel? Even if a tragedy would take place and the left would win the elections, the Prime Minister would still be in office, and he would maintain the same powers of speaking and persuasion. And in any case, for the first few days after the elections it would still not be clear who will be Prime Minister. The post-election runaround could be postponed for two days to allow the Prime Minister to take a quick trip to the United States. I am not convinced by the claim "in Netanyahu's circles" that the pact with Iran will be signed on the fourth of Nissan (March 24), and that "we must not miss the boat." It seems to me that under the circumstances, because of the disagreement with the President and his advisors, it might be easier to slow the Iranian centrifuges on March 18 than it will be on March 3.
Picking a Fight with other Nations
So much for the rational dizziness about this topic. But I also have an idea at a higher level, based on metaphysical thinking, related to the topic of " Picking a fight with other nations."
This issue became the main point of controversy between the Zionists and the Chareidi sector in the era before the Holocaust and before the establishment of the state of Israel. The ideological Chareidi opposition to Zionism is based on the Midrash (which is not quoted in halacha), that "the Holy One, Blessed be He, made Yisrael take an oath not to revolt against the other nations" [Tanchuma Devarim 4]. In the courtyards of the Satmar Chassidim, this statement from the Agadda was raised up to the theological level of one of the main principles of our faith, and they are willing to fight a war to the bitter end against the establishment of the state, which they see as "a revolt against the nations." This illusionary sect believes that the Holocaust came about as a punishment for the sin of Zionism – the revolt against the nations. They are willing to join forces with Iran against the State of Israel in order to atone for this "sin."
The expression "a revolt against the nations" has been modified somewhat into the similar phrase, "to pick a fight with the other nations." Much of the political opposition of the Yahadut HaTorah party to moves made by the government of Israel is classified as "starting up with the nations." ("Rav Shach showed his pain and cried out again and again from the depths of his heart that we have no part at all in the ideological and nationalistic 'settlements' of this type, which are picking a fight with the other nations." [Yated Neeman, 5770 – 2010]. "We are for peace and against starting up with the other nations." [MK Gafni to the American ambassador, Iyar 5774]. And there are many other similar examples.)
Religious Zionism not only doesn't see anything wrong with challenging the other nations, perhaps the opposite is true. An act of "starting up" (but not when it is done for its own sake) is seen as having an element of taking a strong stand in our own defense, standing tall, a refusal to cave in and to surrender even in the face of hardship and doubt.
Salvation as a Result of Picking a Fight
This approach receives strong support from the events of Purim, which occurs at this time of the year. If we search through the Tanach for an example of picking a fight we will immediately come across the way Mordechai behaved with respect to Haman. "Mordechai sat at the gates of the King... He would not kneel or bow down... Why do you disobey the command of the King... But he would not listen to them... And Haman was filled with anger... And Haman decided to destroy... and he drew lots..." [Esther, Chapter 3]. In the Midrash, the sages drew a sharp picture of Mordechai's challenges to Haman, mainly during the incident of Mordechai's ride on the royal horse. We can conclude that the decree against the Jews in Shushan and the subsequent victory were born as a result of "picking a fight." Can we learn a lesson from this about the best way to act throughout all generations?
However, in the end, if our Prime Minister has decided to give his speech in spite of the way it is being received, it is certainly better to have it take place during the month of Adar and not during the month of Av...

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