Think again: Living with permanent insecurity

The destructions of both Temples were hardly miraculous. Just the opposite: they followed normal rules of history.

Palestinian students supporting Hamas demonstrate in the West Bank city of Hebron (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian students supporting Hamas demonstrate in the West Bank city of Hebron
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al ma avda ha’aretz – For what was the Land lost?” our Sages asked in the wake of the destruction of the Temple.
To that question, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch noted, the historians had easy answers. The destructions of both Temples were hardly miraculous. Just the opposite: they followed normal rules of history.
How could tiny Judea have avoided falling prey to the rising Assyrian and Babylonian imperial powers? How could the insignificant power of Judea mount resistance to the mighty Roman legions? And the historians are right, Hirsch pointed out. But they misunderstood the question that our Sages were asking. The surprise lay not in the defeats at the hands of the Babylonians and later the Romans. Rather, the miracle was the “political existence of Judea for more than a thousand years, an existence for which every natural prerequisite was absent.”
At the most vital crossroads of the ancient world, coveted by every major empire, how had the Jews maintained their political independence for a millennium? So the question our Sages asked was really: What happened to cause the miraculous Power to forsake Israel? Why did the same Power “whose eagles’ wings alone raised Israel up to freedom and independence and had maintained it far above the inexorable life cycle of nations... not rush to the scene when the Babylonian power was poised to devour and the Roman legions stood poised to capture?” That is what our Sages were asking when they pondered the causes for the loss of Land.
LESS THAN two weeks before Tisha Be’av, God revealed to us with absolute clarity how precarious is our existence and how much we are in need of Divine protection.
Once US President Barack Obama failed to act when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad crossed Obama’s self-imposed redline and used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, it was clear that all options were not on the table, and that Obama had thrown away all his leverage in advance of the negotiations with Iran. The American position would shift to “any deal is better than none,” as long as it avoids the use of military power during Obama’s term in office.
Obama is lying when he says that last week’s deal prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. All restrictions on Iran end after little more than a decade. So at best, a nuclear Iran is almost inevitable between 10 and 15 years from now. And that’s if Iran does not cheat – something at which the Islamic Republic has long practice and great expertise.
The contemplated inspections regime is so porous that Iran might not even have to follow the North Korean example and expel international inspectors before attaining a bomb.
At the same time, the sanctions relief is so front-loaded that the mullahs have little incentive not to renege at any point, especially once Tehran is awash with men in silk ties and fancy suits eager to sell Iran the rope with which to hang them. More likely, the mullahs will rely on Western leaders to avert their eyes to any violations, as they did throughout the negotiations, so as not to give lie to their triumph.
So we can pretty much count on living in the shadow of a nuclear Iran that vows to annihilate us a little more than a decade from now, and possibly sooner. In the meantime, we can happily contemplate what Hezbollah and Hamas can do with their share of the $100 billion to $150b. in sanctions relief that will flow shortly into Iran’s coffers, or how that money will be spent to train legions of Iranian hackers and cybersecurity experts to attack Israel and defend against counterattacks.
FURTHER DISCUSSIONS of the agreement at this point are pointless baying at the moon: Obama achieved what he set out to do – turn Iran into the preeminent Middle Eastern power.
Our task now, in the midst of a nightmare from which there is no waking, is to figure out how to protect ourselves – militarily, yes, but even more importantly, spiritually.
Not just today but since the creation of the state, the Jews of Israel have been dependent on Divine protection. James McDonald, the first US ambassador to Israel, once remarked that Israel is the only country in the world that factors 30 percent Divine intervention into every government decision.
Reading Yehuda Avner’s The Prime Ministers, one is struck by the number of times that Israel’s existence hung in the balance, and not just during the 1948 and 1967 wars. If US president Lyndon B. Johnson had not responded positively to prime minister Levi Eshkol’s plea for rearmament after the 1967 War, Israel would have been left without arms to defend itself from Arab armies bent on revenge. The successes of the Entebbe and Osirak raids rank as near open miracles.
The current situation also contains hints as to what we must do so that we do not find ourselves asking, like our Sages after the Destruction: “For what was the Land lost?” A nuclear- armed adversary helps to clarify one aspect of our situation: We are all in this together. An Iranian nuclear bomb would make no distinctions between religiously observant and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi.
We are being shown that enhancing Jewish unity – so that it is freely chosen, not forced on us from Above – is the imperative of the hour.
In several places the Midrash and Talmud point out that the armies of the wicked King Ahab were successful because there was peace and love between the Jewish soldiers, and they did not speak negatively about one another.
About 20 years ago, Rabbi David Geffen started an organization called Common Denominator to bring the full spectrum of Israeli Jews together by working on common projects. Before he started, he went to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, then the greatest living halachic decisor, and asked him whether just lowering tensions between Jews would be a worthy endeavor, even if it had no impact on any participant’s religious observance.
Elyashiv told him that it would.
Over a period of three years, Geffen also brought about 25,000 secular Jews to visit families in Mea She’arim. When he heard about that aspect of the project, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, a major American rosh yeshiva, had tears in his eyes, as he told Geffen, “If you can just teach haredim to love secular Jews as they are, without any connection to kiruv [outreach work], you will accomplish more than all the kiruv groups and might even bring the Messiah.”
Weinberg’s point was that one Jew can influence another Jew positively only if the latter feels that the first genuinely loves him and seeks his good and is not just motivated by a desire that everyone be religious like him.
The key to building that love is to focus on our fellow Jews’ virtues and not spend our time taking their spiritual temperature. Most of us have at least some sense of our many failings.
Yet when we look in the mirror, we tend to place more emphasis on our good points. Loving our fellow Jews as ourselves means defining them by their virtues, just as we do with respect to ourselves.
Last week, I heard Miriam Peretz speak. She had lost two of her sons, Uriel and Eliraz, in combat. Her rock-solid belief in the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple was palpable. She described how she has a small model of the Temple in her home. Two stones taken from the booby-trapped rock upon which her Uriel was killed in Lebanon – one charred and the other washed clean by the rain – she imagines will be among the building stones of the Third Temple.
She told how Eliraz had called during fighting in Gaza to say that he had a break of a few hours and was coming to see her. She told him to visit his wife and one-month-old daughter whom he had not yet seen. But he said that he did not have time to reach his home in Eli. Instead he met his wife in Jerusalem, and together they went to the Western Wall.
It would be the last time they would ever see each other.
Two weeks after Eliraz fell, his wife wrote a description of that last meeting, and how Eliraz told her before the Kotel with tears in his eyes, “Do you see? For this. For this, we live. For this do we beseech [God]. For this we fight. And for this, if it’s required, will we give up our lives.”
I cannot fathom how Mrs. Peretz had the strength to read that letter, and even to turn it to a source of optimism to an audience of young women starting National Service. But she did. And with her words she shook me from any complacent assumption that only among the great tzaddikim of my haredi community is such intense faith to be found.
May we all make the effort to get to know one another better, to be alert to the admirable qualities to be found in our fellow Jews, and through the increased love and unity between us merit not only protection from those who seek to wipe us out but also to see the Temple rebuilt and Tisha Be’av transformed from a day of mourning to one of rejoicing.
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997 and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.