Hating Israel


Israel is the Jewish state. If you are anti-Israel, you are opposed to the Jews. Included are those super-orthodox sinners who went to Tehran to cavort with Ahmadinejad. Being Jewish doesn't make one immune from self-hatred. Just ask Karl Marx.

Does this mean we must support the policies of the Israeli nation? Noooooo. It means we must support the existence of, security of and prosperity of the Jewish nation of Israel. It means we must be fair and balanced, to borrow a foxy phrase. It means we must cease the demonization and baseless condemnation.

In a recent article in a local paper in the Berkshires, the writer casually mentions that he is "aware that friends on the left who perceive Israel as a dark eminence -- a murderous pariah state -- view my position as soft, sentimental, and wrongheaded."

With all due respect, ANYONE who considers Israel a murderous pariah state is willfully ignorant of reality, in order to justify an explicitly racist stance. Call the Jews murderers, you are a racist. Call the Hamas terror leaders murderers, you have been reading the news.

Those are the facts. It is up to everybody to learn them, internalize them and have them at their command to form correct opinions and inform those who hold incorrect ones. We can argue on land for peace, how the army should respond to the UNPROVOKED rockets fired at civilians in Sderot and elsewhere, what to negotiate and so forth. All that is legitimate. And if Israel chooses a path other than the one you would have her choose, so you can say you think they are wrong.

But you may never slander Israel. A murderous pariah state intentionally targets and kills civilians and espouses genocide or fatal force against anyone deemed an enemy. Murder is the killing of someone who poses no lethal threat to your life. Standing idly by while others commit murder is to be an accessory to it. The only moral option is to prevent it. Targeting and killing the rocket launchers is self-defense, and is not an option. It is a requirement.

I shouldn't have to explain this, but since there is such willful ignorance in the world, I feel I must.

This is included in "Remember what Amalek did to you". I'm sure the Amalekites, like the Palestinians, read and reread Mein Kampf (or thought similar thoughts relevant to the time) before they were motivated to try o annihilate all the Jews. We are commanded to never forget to "blot out the memory of Amalek". I believe that blotting out their memory means to blot out their slander, to refute their lies and proudly proclaim the truth of our mission and morals.

The Power of Anti-Semitism and The Response To It

Balaam, the Gentile prophet we read about in the book of Numbers, has been enticed to come curse the children of Israel on behalf of the king of Moab. The reputation of his powerful curses and blessings is worldwide. Thus, the king of Moab, who was terrified about the approach of Israel, hired Balaam to curse them, and remove them as a threat. Balaam has informed his employer that, despite whatever his personal wishes may be, he can not utter anything that God does not approve. He may not be able to curse as the king wishes.

Nonetheless, he goes. On the way, an angel holding a sword blocks his path. Balaam does not see the angel, however, his donkey does and stops in his tracks. No amount of beatings will get the animal to budge forward. Finally, God lets the donkey speak: "Why do you hit me? Behold, I am your donkey that you have ridden upon from your youth. Have I ever behaved like this with you before?"

At this point, God opens Balaam's eyes and he sees the angel with the sword. He says to him, "I did not know that you were there. If it is evil in your eyes, I shall return home." The angel answers, "You may go, but you must only speak that with God puts in your mouth." Balaam continues to the king of Moab, and is unable to curse Israel. Instead, he utters their blessings and praises.

The donkey speaking was truly a great miracle, but why was it necessary? All the donkey did was to complain about his treatment and nothing more What great goal was accomplished by this miracle? If it was kindness to the donkey, so he should be able to "vent", well I'm sure he was not the first animal to be beaten in history, so why don't all animals get the right to complain?

Secondly, how was it possible that such a tremendously gifted prophet as Balaam was unable to see the angel with the sword?

Thirdly, the sages teach that Balaam was receiving a lesson in humility. Here he was purporting to be able to uproot an entire people with his speech, while to destroy his donkey he would require a sword, as he says, "If I had a sword I would kill you!" The commentary Oznaim Latorah asks the powerful question, why indeed could he not destroy his donkey with his speech if it was so powerful?

Finally, Balaam is referred to as "the wicked one." Now, upon reading this chapter, he really didn't do anything wrong. He said what God told him to say, he blessed the children of Israel! Perhaps it was the desire to curse them that makes him evil, I'm not sure.

Perhaps this episode with the donkey is underrated by us. We focus on the wonderful blessings that Balaam gave to the Jewish people, but I don't believe they are the main aspect of this story. Indeed, the Oznaim Latorah explains, Balaam's blessing or curse would not have the effect on Israel that it might have on other nations. God specifically tells Israel that it is their own behavior that determines their fate.

I think that this section may actually be an insight into the soul of the anti-Semite, and a possible response to him. The blessings that Balaam gives all lack one crucial element: praise for what Israel contributes to the world. Instead, Balaam repeatedly stresses how successful, prosperous, and powerful the children of Israel will become. He does praise their attributes, but nowhere does he express any recognition of how humanity is richer for the existence of the Jewish people. No gratitude and appreciation for all the diseases we've helped cure, all the life-improving things we've invented, all the heroic rescue efforts after natural tragedies.

That is because he does not wish to see all that. This is at the core of the speaking donkey miracle. For starters, Balaam certainly should have seen the angel with the sword. He didn't see him because he didn't want to see him. And once he did, his conscience made him offer to return home. The angel responded in accordance with God's way of dealing with the world, namely, granting people free choice. "One who wishes to become impure, has the way opened before him," say the Jewish sages.

As for the content of the donkey's speech, in truth it is sublime. The donkey is putting into words what the Jewish people is all about. "I am your faithful donkey, upon whom you have ridden since your childhood. Have I ever caused you such trouble before?" In other words, have you ever stopped to think just how much good of the Jewish people does for you and the whole world? Have you ever stopped to think what the world would be like if the Jewish Messiah came?

Of course not. The anti-Semite needs to believe the worst about the Jewish people. Balaam was incapable of seeing the angel, was incapable of seeing the angelic potential of having the Jewish people in the world. However for a moment, when the donkey spoke of his care and concern for Balaam since his youth, he saw that angel and had a pang of regret. That was the critical moment of choice for him, when he should've turned heel and gone back to his land. But by choosing to proceed to Moab, he chose to live as an anti-Semite. For this he is called wicked.

The anti-semite needs to feel hatred. Perhaps that is why he wanted to kill the donkey with a sword, instead of a curse. It's more violent, and more satisfying for raw hatred to do it that way.

Sadly, anti-Semitism is back in fashion in many parts of the world. And I believe that the Jewish people must fight back against it, much in the fashion of Balaam's donkey. We need to remind the world just how much we love it, and how much we wish to give to it.

Will they listen? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Perhaps long enough to avoid a tragedy, and perhaps some people may indeed be changed by that message. People have free choice, we don't control anyone else. What we do control is our own efforts, and that is what we should use as best we can. The rest will be left up to God. It might just happen that, at the end of the day, the anti-Semite will bless us just as Balaam did.

The magical character button

Take, for example, the perplexing story of the Israelite midwives. Pharaoh gave them an order to put to death every male child that was born. The midwives disobeyed him and kept the boys alive as well. When Pharaoh confronted them, they gave him an excuse: "The Israelite women are very lively, and before the midwife arrives, they have already given birth!" Pharaoh realizes that working through the midwives will not do the job, so the issues a general order that all male children must be thrown into the river.

I find this story completely confusing. First of all, how do the midwives have the nerve to give such a lame answer to Pharaoh? Granted that they were prepared to risk their lives and not kill the males, but what kind of excuse is this? Why didn't Pharaoh simply respond that they should kill the male babies when they find them? Further, why did Pharaoh accept such insubordination? He held the power of life and death over the Israelites, or so he thought, so why didn't he punish the midwives?

The ease with which the Israelites had access to Pharaoh and could openly debate Pharaoh's policy towards them with him directly is also amazing! Moses, Aaron, the representatives of the Israelites all seem to have free run of the palace! One could never imagine such a thing in World War II Germany.

A further question. What was Pharaoh's goal of having the male children killed? If he sought to limit the growth of the Israelite population, as implied in the verses which stress just how fruitful Israel was, he should've had the female children eliminated. After all, one male could impregnate many females, so killing the male children is less effective. If here and there, a male child was missed, the Israelites would continue to multiply in any case. Not so if the girls were killed.

One more question, and then we will try to answer them all. After the Israelites are liberated, and after they have received the Torah, there are a number of Commandments relating to the various nations that have oppressed us. First and foremost, is the commandment to eradicate the memory of Amalek. Then, we are enjoined to not despise the Edomite, "for he is your brother."

But one contrast seems to be striking. Regarding the Ammonites and Moabites, the Torah tells us to not allow them to join our people ever. Why? Because they did not bring out water and bread to us as we traveled through the wilderness. Regarding Egypt, however, we have an opposite approach. "Do not despise the Egyptian, for you were a guest in his land." What? What kind of hospitality was that? Decades upon decades of bitter servitude? And what kind of crime did the Ammonites and Moabites commit? It seems that what they did was far worse than the Egyptians! How can this be?

Our rabbis, perhaps in response to this question, tell us a story about Pharaoh's intentions regarding the Israelite males. His fortunetellers had informed him that a savior had been born to the Israelites. This savior would liberate them from Egyptian slavery and lead them out of the country. Pharaoh was not prepared to allow this to happen, so he ordered all of the males to be killed. In this way, he hoped that that savior would be among those eliminated.

From all of the above questions, I have come to a possible explanation. It is that the Egyptians were not "anti-Semitic," and did not hate the Israelites in the least. Allow me to explain.

I believe there are three kinds of jealousy in the world. The worst kind is one where the jealous individual despises the object of his jealousy and wishes him every harm. This is what Cain did to Abel. The best kind of jealousy is where the jealous individual wishes to learn from the example of the object of his jealousy and thus improve himself. In rabbinical literature, this is called "Jealousy of the scribes," which simply causes the jealous individual to become ever more scholarly.

But there is a middle kind of jealousy, not hatred, but not love and admiration either. It is when the jealous person wishes to subordinate the object of their jealousy to their own ambitions. Think of a hostile corporate takeover as opposed to a smear campaign.

I believe that Pharaoh and his Egyptian leadership possessed this kind of jealousy. They wanted Egypt to be the most powerful and successful empire in the world but were jealous of the remarkable success of the Hebrews. They held no hatred towards them, which makes sense in the context of what Joseph had done in saving Egypt. Nonetheless, they did not wish to befriend them or learn from them. They wished to harness their uniqueness for their own aims.

If this is true, we can understand the initial reluctance of Pharaoh to simply order the execution of the Jewish male babies. He told the midwives, in typical Mafia fashion, "Make it look like an accident." Make sure that the male babies are not successfully born, prevent the necessary life-saving actions during childbirth and let the babies die by themselves. To this, the midwives responded that by the time they got to the Israelite women, they had already given birth. Pharaoh had never ordered them to actually actively kill the babies. The Hebrew term used is "cause them to die." The words for kill and murder are not the same.

Pharaoh's obsession with a hostile takeover of the Israelites also explains why he wanted the male children eliminated. In the ancient world, certainly, it was the males who determine the identity of the family. If the girls would be killed, the Israelite males would then marry Egyptian girls and thus convert them to the Israelite way of life. If the boys were gone, then all that would be left were the girls who would then be married by Egyptians, guaranteeing their complete assimilation. That, after all, was Pharaoh's goal. He preferred the neater method of making it look like an accident, but when push came to shove, he ordered the boys thrown into the river.

(In a side point, our sages teach us that the stories of the book of Genesis foretell what would befall the descendants of the patriarchs in later generations. When Abraham and Sarah descended to Egypt because of a famine, Abraham requested that Sarah proclaim herself his sister instead of his wife. He was afraid that if they knew that he was her husband, they would kill him and take her away. Indeed, when she said that Abraham was her brother, that did save his life. She was then taken to be Pharaoh's wife. In a sense, this was the new Pharaoh's goal as well. Eliminate the potential husbands, and take the girls to be the Egyptian wives.)

There is a test written into the commandments to see whether we are truly free of both negative kinds of jealousy. The great sage Rabbi Akiva claimed that the essence of the Torah was the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Somebody with one of the two negative jealousies will be incapable of fulfilling that commandment. Certainly, if they hate their competitor it will be impossible. But even if they simply view the person as a competitor, while they may not hate them, they will not be able to love them. Only one who views a competitor as a teacher will be able to observe this law.

Imagine you have a button which, when pressed, will grant your "competitor" immediate excellence and success. Would you be able to press that button? I'm not talking about a case where your competitor is seeking to put you out of business. I'm talking about a case where you both are simply doing your business and trying your best. Would you help your competitor? If your interest is to learn how to continually improve, you will press that button with gusto and then ask your competitor how he or she made it to the next level.

Now we can understand the difference between the Egyptians, on the one hand, and the Ammonites and Moabites on the other. The former were not haters. Yes, they were jealous, and they got punished for it. But they did not seek to destroy, only to subsume. But the Ammonites and Moabites refused to bring water and bread to a thirsty and suffering mass of humanity only from hatred. As a result, their character invalidates them from future entry to the nation of kindness, the nation of Israel.