07 June 2010

May a New Light Shine Upon Zion

A difficult and challenging period ahead for us Jews, as Israel navigates what seems to be the rapidly shifting tide of opinion of the world, coalescing around the idea that Israel alone holds the power and the key to unlock the Gordian Knot of Middle East Peace.  Turkey's realignment with Iran, which unabashedly marches toward nuclear power and the open threat of Israel's annihilation, has seemed to signal once and for all that the despite Hamas, despite Syria, despite Hezbollah in Lebanon and despite the mystery of what would happen if the Hashemite Kingdom or Egypt ever lost their hold on power in their countries--despite all that, the world has embraced the notion that Israel holds all the cards for peace in the Mideast.  As someone who's advocated two states--Israel and Palestine--for nearly thirty years, I admit to quaking in fear at the prospects that two states won't make the existential problems go away and yet it seems the options have run out.  Had we built two states ten, twenty or thirty years ago, we'd have head a big lead on building trust in the relations between the two nations.  And now, a truly radicalized world has caught up to us.  The pressure being brought to bear on Israel--overdue and warranted in part--remains a gamble with unpredictable results.

We don't know what will be.

I imagine it is the exact dilemma felt by the Israelites when the stood at the border between Jordan and Israel, ready to send spies into the land to survey its inhabitants, and were forced to hear the "reports" that the land was filled with giants and the spies were but "grasshoppers in their own eyes."  Fear had diminished their own stature, a lesson the dimensions of which the Sages are quick to understand.  Great risk is involved not only in 'conquering a land' but in ruling oneself once settled there; and the spies' sin for seeing themselves as grasshoppers speaks, to a degree, to calculate risk while not diminishing one's own stature.  Ironically, the more small we feel in the face of a threat, the greater the threat and therefore the greater the risk of an adverse reaction.  Instructive Torah, indeed.

Later in the text, Moses confronts an angry mass that demands water to slake its thirst and infamously, he strikes a rock, bringing forth water, but neglects to invoke God's name.  Maimonides is quick to point out that Moses' sin was obvious--he had expressed great anger, a terrible example for a leader to set, and therefore had to be punished accordingly.  His extreme anger, the argument goes, prevented him from achieving national and territorial redemption.  This is particularly important for us Jews to consider, of course, but equally important (should they be reading our sacred texts) for Turkey and Palestine and Iran and Syria to be considering as well.  That heightened anger in general never seems to end well is axiomatic (generally); all the more so when that anger is coupled with state power.  God makes an example of Moses the leader specifically because leaders ought to know better.  His punishment is an example to us all.

Nachmanides disagrees with the Rambam and takes another equally interesting and challenging tact, expanded upon by Joseph Albo.  He says that Moses was punished for striking the rock because he had lost faith in God, giving the appearance that the power to bring forth water was his.  The lack of faith here symbolizes a kind of chaos, a disorder, and the abrogation of the societal structures, rooted in the relationship to the ethical and the Divine, that undermines the very essence of the relationship between the people Israel and their leader.  This erosion of faith in God (demonstrated by not sanctifying, by not giving credit where credit is due, wears thin the body politic and for this Moses is punished.

What object lessons:  don't be grasshoppers in your own eyes; curb your anger; have faith in a greater power than yourself.

Such concise lessons, so seemingly simple, and yet, on appearance, so nearly impossible to achieve.

And look at us now:  3300 years since the Exodus from Egypt, sovereign in our own land and yet still under threat--from without and within--and not yet fully redeemed.

May a new light shine upon Zion and may we all swiftly merit its radiance.

1 comment:

jhh1822 said...

so very well put