Rage in Elul

How long will God's anger be restrained against a world that continues to harbor fanaticism?

The Hebrew month of Elul is here. And in synagogues throughout Israel and the Diaspora the Shofar is being sounded in anticipation of the coming New Year. Speaking of sounds, I can't help but recall an eerie evening over 15 years ago in Jerusalem as the first Gulf War was winding down. Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic had come to the Jerusalem Theater to give a morale-boosting concert. Isaac Stern was the featured soloist. As he played the sublime second movement of Mozart's Third Violin Concerto, with its enchantingly sweet melody conjuring up for all of us renewed images of beauty and love and peace, there was a sudden intrusion. Over-arching the music - overwhelming it - came the ominous sound of the by-now-familiar siren - the Scud-inspired siren threatening death and destruction. Half the audience put on their gas-masks. Others didn't bother. My reaction can best be summarized as a smoldering rage! On the most immediate emotional, esthetic and socio-moral level there was summarized for me - and probably for the rest of the audience - the relentless and pitiless conflict-on-earth between beauty and ugliness, between hatred and love, between peace and apocalyptic war. But on a deeper, unabashedly ethnocentric level, my rage surged out of a melange of historic associations: the Holocaust, the ingathering and building of a sovereign Jewish state in Israel, and the never-ending wars we are forced to fight to stay alive as a people in our own land. TODAY, as Elul heralds the approach of 5767, the rage persists. It is unquenchable. The thought - more than the thought, the certainty - that even after the Holocaust, there are real forces out there aiming to annihilate Jews and today's most vivid embodiment of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, is enough to stoke the fires of unremitting anger in any Jew, particularly Israeli Jews. The president of Iran propagandizes the big lie that the Shoah never happened. But when the UN tolerates one of its member states urging and planning the destruction of a fellow-member state, when European anti-Semitism and sundry variations of anti-Zionism muck up the media and academia, it's as if, indeed, the crime of all crimes never happened. Furthermore, irony of ironies, Israel, the Jewish state, is to be the hod hehanit - the spearhead of the battle of Western civilization against Iran and Islamic terror. Of course, it's in our self-interest to protect ourselves, and, after all, the US with help from Britons, Canadians, Australians, et al, are doing their bit in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the realization that Israel is in the front line of defense of Christendom against the announced Islamic intentions of world conquest is nothing less than infuriating. When will Christian Europe recognize its debt to Israel and, in its own self-interest, rise up strong, determined and unified against this clear and present threat to all humankind? (Well, at least we're getting submarines from Germany - talk of ironies!) DARE WE speak of rage against some of our own follies? Analyses and superanalyses, commentaries by experts, professional and amateur, are covering and lamenting all that went wrong with strategic and tactical planning in this last war. At the core of our thinking, however, must be an acceptance of several truths about our existential political situation. To continually blind ourselves to these truths is itself enough to enrage, if not question our sanity. First, we dare not lessen our guard, not militarily, not diplomatically, not through our universally-reported rhetoric. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following, subsequently much-criticized, comment on June 9, 2005 before the Israeli Policy Forum in New York (he was not premier at the time; but he was considered prime minister Ariel Sharon's stalking-horse): "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want to be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies." Whatever stylistic subtlety Olmert may have been intending, imagine the impact of such words on a blood-lusting enemy. And notwithstanding peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah-Palestinian (not just Hamas) axis refuses to accept the existence of the State of Israel. They want us dead. Planning must be based on this truth. SECONDLY, therefore, any talk, any speculations about giving away pieces of Eretz Yisrael is madness. One could make a sound argument ideologically and morally for retaining all of Eretz Yisrael - it has been done over and over again since 1967. But today, following Intifada II and Lebanon II, only an Israeli peacenik who is neurotic can justify, in military terms, surrendering control over large swatches of territory which will assuredly become bases for terror. Maybe the Bible understood in realpolitik terms the indispensability of viable borders for a sovereign State of Israel in a way Peace Now neurotics refuse to countenance. Thirdly, concern over demographic problems in the future should be left to the future. Naive? Not at all. It has been pointed out more and more in recent days that dire demographic projections are based on Palestinian false reportage. Moreover, all kinds of variables that we cannot predict today will come into play in the future. But most importantly, at this time and for security reasons, we cannot - dare not - give away territory. On this problem of demography, if we must relate to it, let's apply our creative energy to increasing the Jewish population through aliya programs, more liberal conversion procedures, and, of course, the encouragement of more Jewish births. RAGE IN human beings is a terrible thing unless it is a genuinely righteous rage spawned by hatred of evil - and our genocidal enemies are evil incarnate. In this month of Elul we should not apologize for our rage. But we should pray that there is no "rage in Heaven." How long will God's long-suffering anger be restrained as His world continues to harbor the sirens of cursed fanaticism? There is only one way to mend such a world, so that the harmony of a humanity living together in mutual respect for all life can neutralize the sirens of death. The way is symbolized by the pure sound of the shofar calling upon the nations of the world to join the children of today's Israel in fighting and defeating the forces of evil. Then we'll have the right to hope that God will respond to the shofar's sound by exercising mercy on humanity as it builds a world hospitable to all nations, a world of beauty, love and peace. The writer is rabbi emeritus of Moreshet Yisrael, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem.