The Jewish people and the state of Israel are in a situation they never dreamed or wanted to be in. We are involved in a more than eighty-year-old struggle with another people and civilization. The Jewish people, whose first value is peace, and whose self–definition includes their father Abraham’s primary quality of compassion, find themselves forced into defending themselves by killing and injuring others. A people who through two thousand years of exile prayed for return to the Land and for the establishment of a special society, whose example would be a moral light to the nations, find themselves struggling not only against physical violence, but against a worldwide campaign of hatred and falsehood. The people who see their special mission as bringing moral goodness and blessing to mankind find themselves abused and stereotyped, the most isolated of peoples. And this, after feeling in exile an isolation that they dreamed would be overcome upon their return to the Land.
It is as if everything has become mixed-up and confused, and reality corresponds and does not correspond at once to the prophetic divine promise of return to the Land in blessedness. Morever, our long history has made us special in ways that the Biblical, or even Oral Torah, tradition does not anticipate. The Jews are one of the great peoples of mankind in terms of their creative and constructive endeavors, in their intellectual and spiritual life. Jews as individuals have made remarkable contributions to the worlds of learning, science and technology. Jewish specialness has developed in unanticipated ways. This applies also to the state of Israel, whose achievements in areas such as agriculture, or most surprisingly, in military matters, are far from what might be expected from a society previously devoted wholly to Torah learning. The disproportionate military power that small Israel has been compelled to develop seems incongruous in a way for a nation meant to be a nation of priests, a holy nation, one whose most famous founding king was not allowed to build the Holy Sanctuary because he was a man of war and bloodshed.
The Jewish situation is not that of a people at peace with itself and with others, devoting itself to learning and to sanctifying everyday life in the simple and blessed service of God. It is not one in which holy people, worshiping at the Temple of Jerusalem, see other nations flow in peace to the House of the Lord in Jerusalem, where they, too, acknowledge God’s oneness.
The situation is far from one in which all are secure in our homes, under our own grapevines.
Instead, there is again a need for perpetual vigilance, a very great emphasis on military matters, a constant need to battle. And with this battle, once again, there is the hurting and killing of other human beings, made in God’s image, even as there is, in the heart of the people, a strong longing for peace and an end to all this.
Yet, all the signs are that this will not end soon, or in any time that we can reasonably foresee. We, as a people, will still have to act against our own inner aspirations and engage in resistance to violence and evil, by doing violence ourselves.
All we can do is that which the nation of Israel and the army of Israel have striven again and again to do, to make our resistance as humane as possible; i.e., to avoid injuring the innocent, to work everywhere to diminish violence and not increase it, and to try to be as humane as possible to our enemy, in the hope that they will eventually choose the way of peace. All we can do is, insofar as it is possible, maintain our way of goodness, mercy and compassion to others, so that when the time comes and the other side is ready for peace, we will be more than ready to meet them.Shalom Freedman is a freelance writer in Jerusalem whose work has appeared in a wide variety of Jewish publications.
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