Am Y'israel Chai: The People of Israel live on!
Why is this the case when so many other ancient peoples have ceased to exist? Its an important question.
There is within the Jewish people an abiding wisdom. Historically the Jews have understood that different conditions on the ground require different courses of action. We Jews have managed to survive, in part, because of this innate wisdom. This “knowing” is strengthened through our Traditions and our unique history. We catch a glimpse of this in Chayei Sarah.
Before this week's Parshah HaShem had already declared that Eretz Y'israel belongs to Avraham and his descendants through Sarah, and yet he insisted on purchasing the Cave of Machpelah as a burial site for Sarah and his family, and to pay the full market value. He approached the Hittites with humble nobility and said: "I am a foreigner living for a time among you; sell me a grave site among you, that I may bury my dead here" (Genesis 23:4). Avraham was a powerful man with many armed followers. He could have taken the land by force, citing HaShem's decree as his justification -- Its my land anyway! Instead, Avraham chose the path of respect and peace. In this action we find the historic Jewish desire for shalom, for peace and peaceful interactions with others.
But then generations later, when Joshua led the Israelites back into Eretz Y'israel after the Exodus peace was not an option. In order to return to the Land granted to us by HaShem military actions was required and he did not hesitate to take the appropriate action.
In both cases direct human action was taken.
HaShem sometimes directly intervenes in human affairs. We see this in our personal lives, we see it as we follow the news from Israel, and so on. Most of the time however divine intervention flows through human beings. We consider our realities. Avraham needed a burial place. The most effective way was to purchase one from the Hittites even though the Land was already his by divine decree. Joshua needed to lead the people into settling the Land as HaShem had decreed, and he had to take up arms and fight. Both leaders operated by emuna or active faith, and both determined how to advance through human action.
As Shlomo HaMelech said, there is season and a time for every purposes under the heavens. We Jews desire peace, but that is not always possible. In our origins we find our present and future realities.
The early Zionists were not conquerors. They peacefully purchased land from the Ottoman landlords and then later received deed from the UN as the British pulled out. But what happened? This peaceful method, like Avraham and the Hittites, soon gave way to the necessity of defending the land against hostile Arab armies, as Joshua was forced to so. The historic process had sped up, but it was essentially the same.
Today Israeli and American Jews debate over whether negotiation or military force is the best way to ensure a secure Israel. Likewise we debate about the meaning of Torah observance, is it found in following strict rules or in following our hearts? Through force of will or gentle negotiation with our surroundings? In a way, the debate is about timing and perspective. It always has been. History is repeating, yet again. Do our times call for an Avraham or a Joshua.
Today we need both.
As Leonard Fein wrote in the September 1982 issue of Moment Magazine,“There are two kinds of Jews in the world.
“There is the kind of Jew who detests war and violence, who believes that fighting is not ‘the Jewish way,’ who willingly accepts that Jews have their own and higher standards of behavior. And not just that we have them, but that those standards are our lifeblood, are what we are about.
“And there is the kind of Jew who thinks we have been passive long enough, who is convinced that it is time for us to strike back at our enemies, to reject once and for all the role of victim, who willingly accepts that Jews cannot afford to depend on favors, that we must be tough and strong.
“And the trouble is, most of us are both kinds of Jew.”
Contact Rabbi Shlomo Nachman
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