Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On the Parsha

DovBear: The Message of Munich:

[A Vayishlach post from January 2006]

Thumbing through R' Moshe Feinstein's Drash Moshe this weekend, I came across a thought from the great man which helps me understand why Munich matters.

At the beginning of Vayishlach, messengers return to Jacob with the report that Esav is on his way with 400 men. Are Esav's intentions hostile or peaceful? Jacob has no way of knowing, but according to Genesis 42:8 Jacob was afraid: 'Va'yira Yaacov m'od, va'yetzer lo,' and Jacob was very frightened and extremely distressed.

Why frightened? Because Jacob was confronted with the possibility of an attack, of course. Why extremely distressed? Answers Rashi: Va'yira--sheh'ma yay'hah'reg, Jacob was frightened -- lest he be killed, 'Va'yetzer lo,' and he was distressed, im yah'harog hu et ah'cherim, that he (Jacob) might have to kill someone else.

Why did the thought of killing distress Jacob? We have the right to defend ourselves, and our family do we not?

Answers Rav Moshe: God had the power to change Esav's heart and turn him back, and Jacob had the power to make peace with his brother. A battle with Esav -even a battle that ended in victory for Jacob- would mean that Jacob, as a result of his sins, didn't merit peace and tranquility. It would mean that Jacob had failed either in his obligations to God, or in his obligations to his brother. Concludes Rav Moshe, Jacob wasn't distressed that he might commit a justifiable murder. He was distressed at finding himself in a situation where killing might be necessary because he knew that these circumstances were not inevitable.

Saying your enemy is "evil" is like saying a preventable tragedy is "God's will": It's a way of letting yourselve off the hook for crimes committed in your name and (not incidently) it's also a way for our enemies to let themselves off the hook. Jacob, as he waited for Esav, would have none of that. Instead of blaming evil Esav for the circumstances in which he found himself, Jacob blamed himself. He looked inward, instead of outward, and asked himself what he had done -to God or to Esav- to put himself in danger. There was no exultation at the thought of a final confrontation with the enemy, only sorrow. (Incidently, this moral exquisiteness, I think, is distinctively Jewish and, yes, distinctive of leftist politics.)

Munich matters because the distress of the Mossad agents is made manifest. We see that they are reluctanct killers. We see their uncertainty, their regret. These aren't killing automations, or proud warriers. These aren't souless Israelis bent on revenge, eager to justify their every move. They are men with doubts and worries. Men who know, like Jacob, that for better or worse our circumstances are always of our own making.

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