No Holds Barred: The rebellious man of faith

It is time for the emergence of the new, defiant man of faith, steeped in the tradition of Jacob.

Muslim women with rifles, Gaza_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Muslim women with rifles, Gaza_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The patriarch Jacob is the most maligned of all the patriarchs. With his seeming deception of his blind father to gain the firstborn blessing from Esau and his commercial manipulations of his father-in-law Laban, anti-Semites see him as the prototype of the wily, cunning, dishonest Jew who will do anything for a profit.
Jacob is the forerunner of Shylock, who mourns more for his lost ducats then his lost daughter Jessica. In modern times, the State of Israel is accused of engaging in questionable moral tactics to fight off its enemies.
And yet, we Jews celebrate Jacob. We call ourselves the children of Israel, the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with, and defeated, an angel. Why celebrate a man who seems so deceitful? We do this because Jacob was the patriarch who entered the arena with evil. He fought it and defeated it, unconcerned about the damage it might do to his reputation. He knew Esau was a violent, dangerous man who would have abused the power that would have come with the firstborn’s blessing. He was determined to stop him one way or another, even if it partially impugned his soul.
The same was true of his encounter with Laban, whose wealth would have been abused and misused (and was in any event owed to Jacob for 14 years of unpaid labor).
SOME BELIEVE that religion should distance itself from the corruption of the world and maintain an unblemished integrity. Monastic life, divorced from the affairs of a society ruled by greed and avarice, is where the pious flourish.
Even in the Jewish world there are many who believe that the righteous man spends his life studying, unsullied by materialism or commerce.
Likewise, the argument goes, observant Jews should avoid service in the Israeli army because fighting evil taints the fighter and lacks the innocence of pure Torah study. And in any event, the army is not sufficiently religious and ritual commitment will suffer in its godless environment.
But this attitude flies in the face of the lessons we learn from our forefather Jacob. His vision of religion is one that celebrates not the subservient man of the spirit, but the rebellious man of faith.
Historically, those who have been prepared to fight evil even when accused of becoming unethical in the process have been vindicated by saving civilization from monstrous injustice. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus rights during the Civil War and insisted on continuing the bloody campaign when much of the nation was crying out for peace. But today we remember him as our greatest president, the man who purged America of the abomination of slavery and kept the Union intact.
Seventy-five years later, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain proclaimed “peace in our time” and portrayed himself as an ethical man unwilling to shed blood, in contrast to the “warmonger” Winston Churchill, who was supposedly itching for a fight with Hitler. Yet today the latter is remembered as the 20th century’s greatest statesman.
When I was at Oxford I heard world-renowned Jewish academics lamenting the State of Israel’s existence. Prior to its creation, they maintained, the Jews had the respect of the world as the people of the book and the pity of humanity as Hitler’s victims. Now we were the people of the M-16 and seen as oppressors of the Palestinians.
Yet these moral cowards would have Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran take over the Middle East in order for the Jews to maintain a false morality, predicated on ethical selfpreservation while the world is overtaken by darkness. The desire to remain aloof from the world’s affairs and allow wicked men to gain supremacy is the piety of cowards and betrays a fraudulent faith.
For thousands of years religion has been perceived as demanding and inculcating obedience. Faith demands bowing the head to the unassailable will of God. But Judaism imparted to the world a revolutionary vision of global social transformation and change, a time when men and women, through their defiance, would cure the world of seemingly intractable ills.
War itself would be defeated, as would disease and hunger. Human suffering, Judaism taught, was not the fault of sinful man. Rather, the man of faith was he who demanded of God Himself to keep his promises and His injunctions to choose life.
THE REBELLIOUS man of faith will continue to worship God after Auschwitz but He will never excuse God’s seeming callousness in allowing a Holocaust against innocents. To the contrary, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the greatest Jewish religious leader of modern times, shouted in public on countless occasions, defiantly and with fists pounding the table, “How long, Oh Lord, will you remain silent as people suffer and die? How long will it be before You fulfill Your promise to perfect the world and defeat death?”
The Rebbe challenged God, saying the flaws of the world are now His responsibility. We have been a faithful nation for generations, the Rebbe said, and concluded that our suffering is due not to our sins or shortcomings, but rather to God’s failure to keep promises.
When a bus carrying Israeli schoolchildren was hit by a train, killing 27, and the Orthodox Israeli minister of the interior said they had died because of Israelis’ disrespect for the Sabbath, the Rebbe dismissed the comments as unmitigated chutzpah. When Israeli soldiers died while protecting the Jewish people from further annihilation, the Rebbe raged against the heavens.
God commanded Moses to choose life. Why had He not made the same choice? If only our Muslim brothers and sisters did the same.
If only they could stop bowing their heads to fanatical mullahs who pervert Islam in favor of personal hatreds and insist that the faithful accept their exhortations to violence, even as these foul teachings betray the humanity of a religion that took in Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions when the Jews were the most hated nation on earth.
The faithful have been obedient long enough. It is time for the emergence of the new, defiant man of faith, steeped in the tradition of Jacob, refusing to allow the iron hoofs of evil to tread upon the vulnerable flesh of the innocent and the soft and trusting heart of the righteous.
The writer has just published Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley) and will shortly publish Kosher Jesus. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley