Today is Tisha B’Av in the Jewish calendar, a day which can only be characterized as the National Day of Mourning for the Jewish people. This day marks when both the First and Second Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans respectively, not to mention a host of other calamities such as the deadline of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the start of World War I, the effects of which would lead into the atrocities of the Holocaust. Today, August 14, 2005, we are on the brink of adding a new event to the list of calamities to be remembered on Tisha B’Av: the unilateral pullout from Gaza and the West Bank in Israel.
Slated to officially begin at midnight Monday, August 15/10 of Av, the pullout seeks to remove, peacefully or forcefully, all Israeli settlement residents in the Gaza strip, as well as those in a 300-square mile area of the West Bank, leaving it to the so-called Palestinians1. This will be an unilateral withdrawal in which the state of Israel will get nothing in return, not even an assurance of peace from Palestinian terrorist organizations (on the contrary, they have been quite upfront that this changes nothing and that this is only the first step). I’m sure that there is some sort of deal done behind the curtain, though not between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and the U.S. I’m forced to wonder, has the Israeli government reached the point where money is more important than people? Without knowing the specifics of any U.S./Israel deal over the pullout, I can only think, “Yes, they have.”
It is not a coincidence that this is all happening on Tisha B’Av and subsequent days. For proof of that, we need only turn to this and last week’s parshah, all of which contain chilly parallels to the situation we now face.
In last week’s parsha, Masei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), we read about the travels of the Israelites throughout forty years in the wilderness. Then G-d gives Moses instructions for the Israelites when they cross into the land promised to them and their forefathers, specifically “if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and a surrounding barrier of thorns in your sides, and they will harass you upon the land in which you dwell.” (33:55) The Torah’s words are not only a record of history, but an eternal voice; that command applies to this day, and the fact it was ignored in 1948 and subsequent years is the reason we are at this point today, with these prior inhabitants2 being a thorn on our side. We were also commanded not to make any deals with the inhabitants of the Land, and yet here we are, going through years and years of deal-making with these prior inhabitants. It is ironic that when we decide not to make a deal with the inhabitants of the Land, what we do is to give back the Land that was given to our forefathers, Land that is holy and that was won with sweat and blood.
Unfortunately, it is our own fault. In this week’s parsha, Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Moses speaks quite clearly to the Israelites when he tells them what is expected of them, and the consequences if they fail to heed his words. “Now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and to the ordinances that I teach you to perform, so that you may live, and you will come and possess the Land that G-d, the G-d of your forefathers, gives you. You shall observe His decrees and His commandments that I command you this day, so that He will do good to you and to your children after you, and so that He will prolong your days on the Land that G-d, your G-d, gives you, for all the days.” (ibid. 4:1, 40) Moses was quite explicit in his words (and Deuteronomy is entirely Moses’ own words): Obey the commandments G-d has given you, so you will have life and a lengthy stay in the Land. That obviously didn’t happen then (see Judges and Kings and so forth), and is still not happening now, and I honestly believe it is the reason why the land is being given away (actually, I see it more as the Land leaving us).
Please, don’t think for a moment that I am absolving the Israeli government of blame in the matter, because I certainly am not. I believe Sharon has gone crazy, money-hungry, or simply decided to betray every single thing he stood for when he was running for Prime Minister (that or he will dazzle us all with a brilliant political/military maneuver that will shock everyone in the world and makes us say, “Sharon’s got skeeelz!” You can probably tell how much I believe that to be the case). However, there is a larger issue at stake here, and it has to do with this division between secular and religious Jews in Israel, namely the fact that those who call themselves secular Jews are not practicing the Law that is the one thing which makes a Jew a Jew3. Until that happens, we will continue to live through trying times like the pullout which, while Divinely mandated, are the result of our own free will in the matter.
One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven years ago, in the year 70 C.E., the Romans were used as an instrument for G-d to destroy the Second Temple. Our sages teach that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was baseless hatred between the Jews; brother hated brother for no particular reason, and numerous groups worked against each other, even helping out the
Romans in order to gain the upper hand (as was the case of the Zealots, who facilitated the entry of Roman forces into Jerusalem). I see the same problem today, where “secular” Jews oppose “religious” Jews basically on principle. To paraphrase the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, there are no “secular” or “religious” (or “orthodox,” “conservative,” or “reform”) Jews—there are just Jews, and we are all children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we are all called upon to be “a kingdom of kohanim4 and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)
As Tisha B’Av comes to a close, I feel and weep for the settlers of Gaza and the West Bank who are being torn from the Land like weeds from a garden. Any one, especially secular Jews in srael and the world, who agrees with the withdrawal is missing the point of the momentousness of this occasion: we are forfeiting the Land that is our heritage, giving back a gift from G-d Himself. We are setting a precedent for the future, for what is the difference between Gaza and Jerusalem? We have told the world, and G-d, that we don’t care about the Land, and that is the greatest tragedy here.
May G-d help us that a peaceful solution can be found, one in which we retain the Land of our heritage, one in which our gentile cousins, the sons of Ishamel (for what is all this trouble if not a family feud between the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael), find their own home as well, and one in which all His children, the children of Israel, return to His Torah with teshuva, so that Mashiach can finally arrive.
1. Why do I use the term “so-called Palestinians?” Because the term has been a very plastic one for the last couple of centuries, and only recently has it come to denote these Arab peoples living in the territory of Israel. You can check the Wikipedia for a number of definitions of the term “Palestinian,” and you will see that, at a point, even Jews were called such. Though this is now the accepted term for the particular group of Arab peoples (and you can see in the Wikipedia entry that even who is a Palestinian shifts), it is one that I use grudgingly. Before Yasser Arafat, there were no Palestinians, not as we understand it today; it was probably Arafat’s greatest victory to have attached this name to the non-Israeli Arabs in the territory and have cemented in the mind of the world. [Back to text]
2. Though I say “prior inhabitants,” this is an incorrect term. From biblical times onward, there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel; even after the destruction of the two temples, throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, or the Victorian era, always has there been Jews living in the Holy Land, ironically in relative peace with their Arab nomadic neighbors. By the time the state of Israel was established in 1948, Jews had already been living there, some for decades, some for generations. It is not as if the Jews suddenly arrived; they were always there, although in lesser numbers. The Arab people who were in the area of Palestine had no more of a claim to the land than the Jews did, except for one important fact: the Torah, which irrevocably gave the land to the children of Israel. [Back to text]
3. Personally, I think the term “secular Jew” is an oxymoron of the highest caliber. There is no such thing, period. The only reason anyone can call him/herself a Jew is because they are following the Torah, which is the precedent for the Jewish people and sets the rules and regulations of who is Jewish, and who isn’t. If you are not following the Torah, and in fact despise it and don’t want to have anything to do with it, then stop calling yourself a Jew, because you have forfeited that right and privilege. If you want to continue calling yourself a Jew, then start practicing the Torah, even if it’s just a little, for a little is better than nothing, and little by little you will learn and do more. I sincerely believe that the reason all these secular people still identify themselves as Jews is because in their soul they know who they are, and know what they need to do, regardless of how hard they try to hide from it or deny it. You are only a Jew because of the Torah, and without the Torah, you are not a Jew.
In fact, it’s the same thing with the Land of Israel. Our main claim to it is the fact that G-d gave it to us, as shown in the Torah. If you negate the Torah and wish to have only a secular state, you have no right to the land, at least not any more than the Arabs who lived there at the same time as we did. Why do you think that particular plot of land was chosen for the modern state of Israel? Why there, in the middle of a nest of vipers (so to speak) and not somewhere else that could afford more peace and tranquility? It was because that is our ancestral homeland, a direct gift from G-d to the Jewish people. Without the Torah to back our claim to the Land, all Israelis might as well pack up their bags and move out. [Back to text]
4. Though this is usually translated as “priests,” the Artscroll Stone Edition Tanach translates it as “ministers,” using the meaning of the word that denotes that “the entire nation is to be dedicated to leading the world toward an understanding and acceptance of G-d’s mission.” (pg. 181) [Back to text]