Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A political homily on the Parsha

This week, Arad, King of Canaan, attacks the traveling Israelites. Gutsy move, no? After all, by this time the powers of the Hebrew God were well known. Already, he had overturned Egypt, split the sea, and sustained His people in the desert for 40 years, and this was no secret. As Rachav the whore/innkeeper of Jericho tells her overnight guests only a few months after Arad's attack: "the terror of [Israel] has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you."

So how do we explain Arad's nerve? Why didn't he melt away? Why had no terror fallen upon him?

According to an aggada recorded in BT Rosh Hashana (3a) Arad attacked Israel because he saw the Cloud of Glory had been removed. Both Ramban and Ibn Ezra disregard/ignore this teaching, and instead say that Arad atacked because of the spies. In fact, the King James Version of the Bible translates the verse in question as: And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel.... Most Jewish translations give by the way of Atharim instead, but from the perspective of the two Spanish giants, at least, KJV's gloss seems superior.

I bring all this up because I wish to make a point about Israel and Barack Obama. According to Nechama Leibowitz "by the way of the spies" means that Arad saw that the Jews had lost faith in themselves, and in the God who had brought them to this point. The spies said "and we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” When Arad heard that the Jews were without confidence, Ms. Leibowitz continues, he knew the time was ripe to attack.

Listening to RW bloggers fret about Barack Obama, I find myself mystified. Never mind that I hold Obama means us no harm. Let's stipulate that I'm wrong. Let's stipulate that Obama desires the destruction of every Jewish settlements, and the removal of every Jewish settler. Let's further stipulate that he's actively working behind the scenes to bring about this outcome. Even after making all those rhetorical concessions, I'm still mystified.

I'm mystified, because from the time I was knee high to a real grasshopper, I've heard from my RW Jewish friends, neighbors and teachers that the modern state of Israel is God's gift to the Jewish people. Not one of them ever expressed the slightest, tiniest bit of doubt about this. "All of its ours," they said. "Our right to settle every centimeter of land is absolute, and divinely proclaimed." Some even added, "This is the beginning of the Messianic era"

Yet, now that famous certainty seems to have melted away. The terror of Barack Obama has fallen upon them. Suddenly these same supremely confident Jews who once spoke unabashedly for God are worried that His promise has been withdrawn. Contrary to every Jewish teaching about gentile rulers and their relationship with Israel, these RW Jews seem to believe that Obama has the power to damage us absent God's express approval.

Instead of proclaiming confidently that every move they make carries God's blessing, they've turned themselves into grasshoppers

I hope no modern day Arad is listening.

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